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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Top Ten Small European Cities and Towns

My early July post about the Top Ten Large European Cities, received larger-than-normal readership, and several engaging comments as well. I followed that with a second post, later the same month, detailing the Top Ten Mid-Sized European Cities. I thought I would conclude the series with today’s entry, focusing on smaller cities and towns (and a few villages as well, courtesy of #6 on the list).

There are many worthy contenders, particularly in England, Germany, and Italy. I tried to include a broader geographic sampling of countries, and to include more than just “day trip, tour bus” towns (although there are a few of those in here, such as #5 and #10). Many of these small cities and towns offer enough to merit several days of casual exploration, and they all contribute to some of my favorite European travel memories. A post for another day, perhaps?

Thanks for following this series. Here are my Top Ten Small European Cities and Towns:
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Photo Locale of the Month – August 2017

One of my friends and travel buddies commented to me earlier this week that it has been seven years this month since we trekked with mountain gorillas, experienced the Serengeti wildebeest migration, witnessed Lake Nakuru’s abundant bird life and tree-dwelling lions, and enjoyed tropical Indian Ocean breezes in Zanzibar. Where has the time gone?

Dollar-for-dollar, the heavy reservoirs of cash laid out for three weeks of adventure in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania arguably delivered more bang for the buck than any other travel expenditure. I knew upon arriving at our first safari park of the trip, Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, that we were in for something simply unforgettable.

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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 swath 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 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 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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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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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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Photo Locale of the Month – June 2017

Nashville has been in the news a lot lately.  The Nashville Predators, an NHL expansion team that debuted in 1998, are fighting for the Stanley Cup. They won their last two games, and the the city’s nightlife-rich streets have been filled with even greater than the usual number of revelers. Additionally, the 2017 Country Music Awards air this Sunday on CBS, and the CMA Awards are the city’s perennial Big Event. If that isn’t enough, it was just last month that Governor Bill Haslam announced, from Nashville, that legislation recently passed naming Tennessee the first state to promise free community college tuition.

Nashville is one of the fastest-growing cities in the south, and last year it surpassed Memphis, three hours to the east, in population. Downtown Nashville, its Cumberland Riverfront in particular, has much to offer.

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