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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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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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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