Holiday Decorations around the World

There hasn’t been too much winter chill in the air lately in East Tennessee, where daytime temps have been hovering around the 50-degree mark, only just turning colder a few days ago. Still, Christmas is less than three weeks away, and holiday decorations are up in force.

Though not a religious person, I still enjoy the spirit of the season, particularly the lights, the holly, and the trees. Combined these decorations suggest a communal spirit of giving, and a general air of hope, something of which the world has been in short supply lately.

Here is a sampling of holiday decorations witnessed by yours truly during his travels around the globe. I shall start with cities that I once lived in, then move on from there.

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25 Great Travel Memories

Last month’s blog post, One Sentence on Each Country, received higher-than-normal readership. Thank you for checking it out, Loyal Readers. I wanted to expand upon that (don’t worry, just a short post this time) by sharing some of my favorite travel memories over the years. A few of these fall into the “profound” category. I am referring to things like seeing the mo’ai heads of Easter Island, or of gazing upon 8,000 Qin Dynasty terracotta warriors in Xi’an.

On the other hand, many of these memories are simple recollections of the little things that make travel so rewarding. For this, I am referring to failed, but somehow amusing, attempts at communication with Russian cabin mates on a train from St. Petersburg to Moscow, or of the literal hole-in-the-wall pizzeria that I stumbled upon in Salzburg, a place that somehow crisped my pepperoni pizza just right.

In no particular order, here are 25 Great Travel Memories:

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Photo Locale of the Month – November 2017

Earlier this week, a devastating terror attack took place in Egypt’s North Sinai region. A bomb was detonated inside a Sufi mosque, and as worshippers fled from the building in fear of their lives, they were shot from afar by gun-wielding ISIS types. At press time, over 300 people have perished and no one has claimed responsibility. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has declared three days of national mourning while world leaders have shown solidarity with the beleaguered Arab nation.

I have never visited the Sinai Peninsula, but I have explored other regions of northern Egypt, where the world’s longest river and the principal water source for countless African nations, the Nile, empties into the Mediterranean Sea. Situated on a jewel of Mediterranean shoreline just east of the Nile Delta, Alexandria is my favorite big city in Africa, and its crescent-shaped Corniche is the focus of this month’s photo gallery.

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Thanksgiving Reflections – 2017

My, what a crazy year this has been.

Thanksgiving is normally a time for introspection and reflection, for remembering everything that you have in your life, and for spending the day – or at least the afternoon – with friends and family.

I will be spending my Thanksgiving alone.

This is probably for the best.

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One Sentence on Each Country

Earlier this fall, the New York Times ran a contest that was right up my alley. The famous NYC daily took applications for a single travel writer who would spend 52 weeks – the entirety of 2018 – traveling around the world, spending seven days apiece in each of the newspaper’s 52 places to visit in 2017.

The application process was easy enough; applicants had to provide links to their social media accounts and to write a 500-word essay, but the competition was ridiculous. The job opening was posted for roughly 14 days; the paper received 3,100 applications in the first 72 hours alone!

I threw my proverbial hat into the ring, even though I had already visited many of the destinations in question, such as Stockholm and Puerto Escondido. Considering the competition, I know that I – along with every other applicant, for that matter – face an uphill battle towards job acceptance, but I would definitely savor the opportunity and believe that I can excel in the role.

In my essay, I wrote about how my having already visited 70 countries makes me the ideal candidate because, having traveled internationally every year since 2000 except 2014 and 2015, I am not only a seasoned traveler but a tireless one as well.

Will I get the job? Probably not. But the application process inspired to think back upon some of the places I have traveled to. I compiled a country-by-country list, and thought I would share it with you, Loyal Reader. Without further ado – and taking the definition of “run-on sentence” to new levels – here is one sentence on each country that I have visited:

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Photo Locale of the Month – October 2017

Last month’s photo gallery focused on the beauty of Lake Bled and Lake Bohinj, part of three weeks spent exploring pint-sized Slovenia, which, in terms of value per square mile, features perhaps the most bang for your buck than anywhere else in Europe.

That trip was tackled onto the end of a thrilling African adventure that included safaris in Kenya and Uganda, and my summit of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, arguably my finest travel moment. But after all of that, I still wasn’t sated. From Slovenia, I embarked by train to see one last place, the Old City of Bratislava, Slovakia.

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Still Another Ten Great Horror Movies (#31-40)

I love movies from all decades, and the fact that a movie was filmed in black-and-white is not enough to prevent me from seeing it. Those old Universal monster movies, starring Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, and others, are especially re-watchable. Favorites include “Bride of Frankenstein” and “The Mummy,” the latter of which is leagues better than this past summer’s Tom Cruise misfire of the same name. It wasn’t long ago that TCM aired the original “The Invisible Man,” starring Claude Rains as the title character. Phenomenal special effects during the moments when Rains removes the bandages over his now-transparent face, and I can only imagine how horrifying that must have been to see on screen in 1933.

Of course, “The Invisible Man” is tame by today’s standards. Few movies made before 1970 hold up today as viable horror movies, which makes it interesting that, when I published my first top ten list on this subject four years ago, I declared Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” released in 1960, to be the genre’s all-time best. I did make sure to include a couple of old movies in my latest top ten list, although the oldest one, 1973’s “The Wicker Man,” is still four decades “newer” than “The Invisible Man.” On a more contemporary note, one of the entries, “Get Out,” was released just seven months ago!

Enough explaining! Below is my latest list – the fourth in a series – of great horror movies, ten at a time:

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Photo Locale of the Month – September 2017

The European Alps, that tiny slice of Central Europe where Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Italy, and Slovenia meet up, is arguably the most picturesque landmass on the continent. Snow-capped peaks tower over rolling pastures that, in turn, back up to peaceful villages with thatched-roof houses and wooden bridges over mountain-fed streams that flow into green sub-alpine lakes.  In the summer, mornings are cool, afternoons are sunny, and evenings are lazy.  In the winter, lakes freeze over, snow drifts pile up against farm tractors, and ski runs open for business!

There are dozens of charming towns and villages competing for your hard-earned tourist dollars. If you can manage to leave busy Switzerland, Germany, and Austria for quieter, less expensive Slovenia, you may find that Lake Bled, a lake and town that you may have never heard of before reading this post, offers as much bang for your buck as Zermatt, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and Innsbruck.

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Mexico on My Mind

Mother Nature has been angry lately. Flooding in Nepal, Bangladesh, and East India. Hurricanes Harvey, Katia, Irma, José, and Maria. Wildfires in California, Montana, Wyoming, and the Pacific Northwest. And no fewer than three earthquakes – one as recent as this morning – to strike Mexico in just 16 days.

It is Mexico, my one-time home for almost two wonderful years, about which I am especially worried.

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Reaching for the Sky: Climbing Mount Whitney

Once upon a time, I lived in Southern California and took advantage of the state’s mild climate by vowing to hike as many miles as I could and summit as many non-technical peaks as possible. My ultimate goal: the 14,505-foot (4,421-meter) summit of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the 48 contiguous United States.

Although there are several approaches to Whitney’s rocky summit, the most well-trod route is via the simply-named Mount Whitney Trail. Hundreds of hikers tackle the route each summer day, making the Whitney permit business a lucrative one.

It was more years ago this very month than I’d like to admit when I made the climb. How long ago? Put it this way: the pictures I took that accompany this article were on a non-digital camera! (This fact is no doubt reflected in their poor quality.)

But I did it! In the paragraphs that follow, I’ll share my story and give you the latest information on the permit process. If the hike itself interests you, think about some training hikes you’d like to pursue to get ready; it’s never too soon to start preparing for a Whitney hike or climb.

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