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10 Incredible European Tours for 2019

Have you booked your 2019 European vacation yet? If you haven’t, it’s not too late. Whether you’re into history, hiking, or Harry Potter, this list of the best European tours offers unique adventures across the continent.

All of the following European tours for 2019 still had spots available at the time of publication, but could sell out at any time—so book soon if you’re interested.

Visit Hogwarts on a Harry Potter Tour of England and Scotland

alnwick castle

This seven-night European tour from Great Value Vacations is a must for all Potterheads. It starts in London, where you’ll take a walking tour of locations used in the Harry Potter films, from Diagon Alley to the Ministry of Magic. You’ll also tour the Warner Bros. studio to see props, costumes, and sets. A day trip to Oxford lets you explore more filming sites on your own before you’re off to Edinburgh, where you can visit the cafes where J.K. Rowling wrote the books and then tour Alnwick Castle—which you’ll recognize as Hogwarts. Departure dates for this tour are available from April through October 2019.

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Taste Your Way Through Turkey

istanbul sweets

From delicately spiced kebabs to the famous Turkish delight, Turkey is known for its tempting cuisine—and you can try it straight from the source on this nine-night Real Food Adventure from Intrepid Travel. It starts and ends in Istanbul, where you’ll sample street food and visit a spice market. From there you’ll travel to Bodrum to visit a local winemaker, pick your own produce, and learn to make gozleme (a savory flatbread). A highlight of the trip is three days in Goreme, where you’ll take an Anatolian cooking class and ride in a hot air balloon over an otherworldly landscape filled with whimsically shaped rock formations. Departure dates for this trip run from April through September 2019.

Follow in the Footsteps of Great Composers in Austria and the Czech Republic

mozart statue vienna

Road Scholar’s 14-night Great Composers of Europe itinerary is a memorable, immersive experience for culturally curious music lovers. Highlights include a private piano performance in Mozart’s Vienna apartment; visits to grand concert halls; and lectures on the lives of Mozart, Schubert, Mahler, and others. The itinerary includes stops in Eisenstadt (where Haydn lived for many years) and Salzburg (the birthplace of Mozart) before ending in Prague, home to the Museum of Antonin Dvorak. This trip departs on select 2019 dates between May and November.

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Indulge Body and Soul on a Wellness Trip to Iceland

woman blue lagoon iceland

Need a restorative getaway? Consider this six-night wellness-focused trip to Iceland with G Adventures. Do yoga on a black sand beach, turn your focus inward during guided meditation sessions, and let the therapeutic hot spring waters of the Blue Lagoon relax away every ache and pain. In between wellness activities you can enjoy adventures such as whale watching, hiking on a glacier, and making rye bread in a geothermal bakery. This trip begins and ends in Reykjavik, and departs on select dates between May and September 2019.

Get Off the Beaten Path in Poland

gdansk street sunset

Looking for picturesque medieval towns, stately castles, and fascinating history—without massive crowds? Head to Poland. The 10-night Best of Poland tour from Trafalgar gives you an excellent sampler of what the country has to offer, including a visit to the world’s largest castle near Gdansk. Memorable experiences include dinner with a local family in the Polish Highlands and a chance to bake your own traditional gingerbread. The itinerary also includes a haunting visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp. This trip departs on select dates between May and September 2019.

Live Like a Local in France

aix-en-provence church

For travelers seeking a more immersive experience than a one-week vacation can give you, Smithsonian Journeys is offering the chance to live for three weeks in an apartment in the sun-soaked French city of Aix-en-Provence. The program includes a mix of free time and organized tour experiences to places like the Luberon Valley and Avignon, a UNESCO World Heritage site. You can also choose one or more enrichment tracks focused on French language lessons, cooking classes, or arts and culture. This trip is available in May or September 2019.

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Look for Brown Bears in Romania

brown bear in romania

Europe isn’t known as a hotbed for wildlife, but this seven-night trip from Exodus Travels takes you to a place in the Carpathian Mountains where you can still spot brown bears. The itinerary includes a visit to a bear sanctuary as well as an evening spent watching for bears from a forest hide. During the rest of your vacation, you’ll tour Bran Castle (also known as Dracula’s castle), hike along pristine alpine trails, and go bird watching outside the medieval town of Brasov. This trip departs between May and October 2019.

Bike the Back Roads of Sicily

siracusa alleyway sicily

Soak up the sights, sounds, and orange-blossom scents of Sicily on a five-night biking trip with Backroads. You’ll discover ancient cave dwellings, taste fresh olive oil on a working farm, and tour the Baroque towns of the Val di Noto, a World Heritage site. And because you’re cycling at least 13 miles every day, you can sample all the pasta and gelato you want without guilt. (If that amount of cycling sounds like a lot, give yourself a boost by opting for an electric-assist bike, included with the price of your tour.) This trip departs between April and October 2019.

Discover Traditional Christmas Markets in Germany

frankfurt christmas market

There’s no better way to get into the holiday spirit than by taking a Classic Christmas Markets river cruise with Uniworld. During this seven-night trip, you’ll warm yourself with mulled wine as you wander along cobblestoned streets through festive markets selling homemade treats and artisan crafts. Stops include the fairy-tale village of Rothenberg, Wurzburg with its stunning Baroque-era palace, and Nuremberg, famous for gingerbread and Germany’s largest Christmas market. This trip departs on three different dates in December 2019.

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Hike the Unspoiled Julian Alps

hikers in julian alps

Combine an exhilarating physical challenge with jaw-dropping mountain views on this eight-night hiking trip with National Geographic Expeditions. The trip starts and ends in the charming small city of Ljubljana, Slovenia, with stops in the cozy village of Kranjska Gora and in picture-perfect Bled, where a medieval castle looms over a pristine mountain lake. Dramatic mountain hiking trails take you across the border into Italy and Austria at various points during the trip. You’ll eat well the whole way, with cheeses from local cheesemongers and dinner at the countryside villa of Chef Ana Ros. This trip departs in June, August, and September 2019.

For more ideas, see Top Travel Destinations for 2019.

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Categories
Family Travel

Q&A: A Family Travel Adventure in Latin America

Mike DeSa is a travel journalist, husband, father to three rambunctious boys and former U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer. After nearly seven years of service and a combat deployment to Afghanistan, Mike and his family decided it was time to walk a different path. They left everything behind and are currently in the midst of a seven-country, seven-month trip across South and Central America. To keep up with his family’s travel around the Southern Hemisphere, you can follow them at #dclandromomania on Instagram and dclandromomania.blogspot.com.

Mike recently took time to answer a few questions about his trip for us from his current stopover in Cuenca, Ecuador.

IndependentTraveler.com: What were the most essential things you packed for this trip?

Mike DeSa: The two items we’ve used the most are our waterproof, shockproof and compact-sized camera and our ruggedized laptop. As writers and people who love photography, we knew we needed to invest in a computer and camera that would endure the abuse of this trip. We also needed clothes for warm, humid weather as well as cold and possibly snowy climates. This necessitated several vented fishing shirts as well as zip-off pants that could easily be converted to shorts. Jackets with a waterproof outer shell and a zip-in fleece liner have been perfect for all the cooler climes we’ve encountered to date. Katie and I each have camping-style backpacks that allow our hands to remain free to hold onto the kids through busy bus terminals or airports. For a more detailed list on what we brought, read our Huffington Post blog post.

IT: What’s been the biggest challenge so far?

MD: We assumed the biggest challenges would be mental, such as coping with homesickness. A month in, the biggest challenges have actually been physical, such as traveling on a budget — more specifically, the constraints of that budget to buy the food we crave and the unavailability of some ingredients. When we wanted a certain dish back home, we usually went to the local supermarket and picked up the ingredients, or ate out. Here we’ve found that we can’t always find any ingredient we want, especially in smaller towns, so it’s made whipping up a favorite dish like lasagna or chocolate chip cookies very difficult.

It must sound irrational that our biggest challenge so far during a seven-month, seven-country trek around the Southern Hemisphere with three kids is not having chocolate chip cookies on demand, but our love of food is a big part of our joy as a family.

IT: What has been your favorite moment with the boys so far?

MD: Hands down our trip up the Napo River into the Amazon. We started with a long motorcanoe ride upriver; the low profile of the boat offered a unique perspective like that of gliding on top of the water and was perfect for spotting several different types of Amazonian birds along the way. When we arrived, our guide Gary (a native Ecuadorian) led us on a short walk through the jungle to meet a local woman, Martha, who provided us a demonstration on harvesting and cooking yuca as well as making some of the world’s finest chocolate.

Our favorite part of the tour was the making of chocolate from scratch. Gary cut a cacao pod right off the tree, and while he explained the history of the plant and the origins of its famous delicacy, we all chewed and sucked on the seeds, which tasted just like cotton candy. We then helped toast and peel the beans, and the boys got to drop them into the grinder. The product was fresh, 100 percent unsweetened chocolate! The look of joy and anticipation on the boys’ faces as they watched the paste slowly squeeze from the grinder was one we’ll always remember.

Martha then added a little fresh cane sugar and water, and the most gorgeous smell rose from the pan as we watched our favorite treat boil together before our eyes. Fresh bananas and strawberries accompanied the chocolate, and we all spent the next 30 minutes dipping, spreading and smearing chocolate everywhere. We highly recommend taking this trip with Michelle and Gary at La CasaBlanca if you’re ever in Tena.

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IT: What’s the best way to fund this sort of long-term travel?

MD: My wife and I saved as much as we could throughout my seven years in the Marine Corps, enough to fund this trip and search for a family investment. The best financial advice we can offer to a family looking at something like this is to start early, constantly evaluate what you’re spending money on and live within your means. Before we left, we did a great deal of research on the cost of living in different countries in South America and built a strict budget. We’ve made some minor tweaks to it since we’ve been here, but for the most part it’s been fairly accurate.

Once we hit a limit on meals out for the week or souvenirs for the month, that’s it — no more spending. Since our trip spans so many countries with varying costs of living, we had to find ways to save in preparation for the more expensive countries, such as living at a WWOOF operation or staying in a hostel. It may not always be the most comfortable living, but the experience of the trip makes the sacrifices well worth it.

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IT: What can people who don’t travel with children learn from your trip?

MD: Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something you love with the people you love. Children or not, create an adventure around something you’re passionate about. It could be a hunt for the best fish and chips in England, a treasured temples of the world quest or rescuing sea turtles in Honduras. We built our trip around a search for investment opportunities and tourism as well as our love of food. We brought our children because they mean everything to us and we wanted to teach them about the world they live in. Whatever your ideal adventure is, do it with the people you love, build it around your passion and remember that you’re never too old to learn new things.

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Check out more travel interviews!

Categories
Cities

Living in K-Town (Kaiserslautern, Germany)

Author: debgilmre
Date of Trip: April 2005

For many of you, this will be a short trip just checking out the sights, but for others, you will be living here for two to four years. I hope to share things that will make your tour the best it can be.

Broadway Kino
Broadway Kino is one of the few movie theaters in Germany that shows films in the original language. Broadway has a website where you can check out what is playing and when, and they give you a phone number that you can call to make reservations in advance. You can visit them at http://www.broadwaykino.com/. They have a snack bar which sells popcorn, candy, nachos, and drinks. The drinks are rather small; they are served in the original bottles, so you might want to get a couple of them before you go in. They also sell beer at the snack bar, which is something they don’t have in the American theaters.

In the times we have visited Broadway, there have never been more than a handful of people there, but it is kind of nice to have the movie theater all to yourself.

Normal prices for adults are 7.50 euros and 5.50 for kids. They do have specials, which can be found on their website. Tuesday is “Broadway Bargain Tuesday”. All shows are admission price E4.60 for adults and students and E3.60 for children until age 11 and handicapped.

Thairama Restaurant
Thairama is my favorite Thai restaurant in Kaiserslautern. It is family owned, and they have a wonderful atmosphere. The owners are great with kids of all ages and the restaurant is immaculate. They have a large fish tank that my son just loves. The quality of food has always been excellent, and we have being enjoying dinner here for almost 13 years.

On a normal night, we usually start off with appetizers–my son and I have the spring rolls, which are the best in Europe in my opinion, and my husband usually has the pork rolls with a peanut sauce.

For our main meal, I usually have a shrimp dish. They have two that I really like one is shrimp in the earthen pot with glass noodles and the other one is shrimp in coconut sauce which is very spicy. My husband, if not having the shrimp too, has the duck, which is fried and very crispy on the outside but juicy on the inside. My son usually has the “normal” chicken, which is chicken cut up in a sauce, and he really enjoys this too. This all comes with rice.

The portion sizes are very large, so we usually don’t do dessert. If we do, we just have the leeches and my son will have ice cream. Normally, our bill is somewhere between 50 and 60 euros, which would be about 65 or 70 U.S. dollars. This is for everything: drinks, appetizers, and main courses for three people.

The owners speak English, and the menu is also in English. They have a large selection to choose from. They also accept most major credit cards.

Cantina Mexicana
So you want to celebrate Cinco de Mayo or hear a mariachi band play, but you’re strapped for cash? No problem. Head on down to the Cantina Mexicana right here in Kaiserslautern. The ambience in Cantina is authentic and inviting. It is a great place to relax and unwind. A kid’s corner allows the little ones to play and enjoy themselves while mom and dad sit back and enjoy a little uninterrupted conversation and dinner in peace.

The portion sizes are very large, and the quality of the food is excellent.

Normally you don’t really need a reservation. Even though they are packed most of the time, they are very adept at getting people in and out without making you feel rushed. I would suggest that if you want to go between 6 or 7pm on Friday or Saturday, you might want to call ahead for reservations.

Cantina offers smoking and non-smoking rooms, a covered outdoor patio area during the spring and summer, and a party room that can accommodate up to 80 guests. The staff speaks both English and German, and they accept most major credit cards.

Visit their website at www.cantina-mexicana.com.

India Palace
Never judge a book by its cover. The location of the India Palace is not one that would inspire you to just stop in as you walk by. We were coaxed in by a coupon that we had received, and found that the India Palace was a great surprise. The atmosphere elegant and inviting, and we were seated immediately. The menu is written in both English and German, and it has a large selection to choose from. Everything sounded so wonderful, it was difficult to choose what we would try. We finally selected the menu number four and were very satisfied with our choice.

The portion sizes were large enough that we split a meal for two people between three adults. This is a place that you can feel comfortable taking the kids or having a romantic dinner alone with that special someone.

The service was great, and the staff spoke English. Check out their web site at www.indiapalace.de. They accept most major credit cards.

Categories
Family Travel

My Wander Year: A New Opportunity to Travel Abroad

While Libryia Jones was obtaining a master’s degree, she explored the idea of doing an overseas internship in China. After reviewing the program’s requirements, she quickly realized she didn’t qualify because she had a child. Other programs she looked into had the same rule.

“I thought, ‘Why should it be not for me just because I’m a mom?’” said Jones, an information technology project manager in Atlanta, Georgia.

Jones knew she wasn’t the only person who wanted to live abroad but felt held back for one reason or another — so she decided to do something about it through a new start-up venture called My Wander Year.

From a pool of applicants, Jones and her team will select a group of 30 to 50 people who will live overseas for a year starting this August, basing themselves in Prague, Czech Republic, for the first three months. They then will move to Chiang Mai, Thailand, for three months, followed by Cape Town, South Africa, and Panama City, Panama.

The Wander Year team will arrange for flights, lodging in a condo or small inn, a SIM card for a smartphone and group office space for participants who will work remotely. The group will have occasional meetings and excursions, but what participants do with the rest of their time is totally up to them. Some people may have the option of continuing their existing job from abroad. Others may take classes or simply enjoy living in a different city.

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The initial application requirements are basic: You must be 21 years or older, have been to another country at least once in your life and speak English. And yes, participants may have kids (though the children must be over the age of 8 to apply). There are a few essay questions and an interview involved, and selected participants will undergo a background check.

“We are looking for people who can articulate a real desire to grow through this experience and who intend to contribute to this community,” Jones said in an interview. “We want to invite cool people who we would love to spend a year with.”

The cost to participate for the year is $2,000 per month, with an initial fee of $3,000. A spouse or child can be added on for an additional cost.

Jones preferred not to reveal how many applications she has received thus far, only saying that they’ve gotten “well over the number of slots available.” Applications are still being accepted on the My Wander Year website. The application fee is $25.

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Categories
Adventure Travel

India – Tiger Safari

Author: migyero
Date of Trip: November 2006

Back from two months of travel in India where we visited 5 parks: Kaziranga (Assam), Corbett (Uttaranchal), Keoladeo (Rajasthan), Ranthambhore (Rajasthan) and Bandhavgardh (Madhya Pradesh).

Here is the description of our tours in this magical country on the tracks of Kipling and Jim Corbett.

KAZIRANGA NATIONAL PARK – ASSAM

Traditional arrival in India from Europe: Paris – Mumbay – Delhi (to recover a large heap of vouchers there) – Calcutta

It seems that nothing moves nor changes in Calcutta, always as many ricksaws, auto-ricksaws, bikes, cars, trucks and buses that the past leaves. I like this city where one sees the print of monsoon on the walls.Two days to walk in between Bengalis; always so friendly.

Twenty-two hours of train and 6 hours of bus later we are in Kaziranga N.P. classified as world heritance of UNESCO. We place in a lodge state, Haranya Lodge, a clean and sympathetic place.

We are there for 6 days of morning and evening safaris in the three parts of the park. It is the beginning of the tourist season and there are not lots of people. We prefer this because the Indian animals are even more shy than their African cousins.

Fauna presents in the park: about 1500 rhinos, 1200 elephants, 1000 wild buffaloes, 86 tigers and about 100 leopards, hyenas, jackals, chital, sambar, munjac, rhesus, macaque, commun, langur, pythons, cobras and about 350 birds.

First day, Western part in the afternoon: rhinos, elephants, munjacs, langurs, macaques.

Five minutes after our first entry in the park, our two first rhinos, that starts well, like often one of the major animals of the park welcome us: a female and its carf. The “elephant grass” in this season is very high, approximately 2,5 meters. Thus just some pictures for the startup of my Canon 20 D in bush condition.

A part only of the park is accesssible in this period of the year, they rebuilt the tracks after the monsoon, which was abundant this year. In each part of the park 25% of the tracks are open. It is nevertheless largely sufficient to see a lot of animals.

We will see about15 Rhinos today, a heard of elephants,buffaloes twice, munjac dears several times and once langurs and macaques. In all 250+ photographs: it will be necessary from day to day to note what it is on the CompactFlash cards.

This park is the most professional one, on the level of rangers, of all of India.The best success of animal protection in India with safeguard extinction of Indian Rhino. It is the centenary year of the creation of the park, new uniforms and rifles for the guards. This park is not included in the Project Tiger, whether 86 tigers are listed. It is the only park where we see the anti-poaching patrols at work every day, but also the head chief of the park inspecting it.

Second day: rhinos, elephants, buffaloes, sambar, chital, munjac, langur, eagles and water birds of all kind.

Today, Eastern part in the morning and Western part in the afternoon. A good score of rhinos, twice a heard of elephants being refreshed at the river, three times buffaloes, a female sambar, a heard of munjacs and one small heard of chital, langurs, two Indian fish-eagles and a lot of migrating water birds, of which a colony of pelicans. No tigers, no leopards.

Third day same as 2nd day: rhinos, elephants, buffaloes, sambars, chitals, munjacs, langurs and macaques, Indian monitor lizard, eagles and water birds of all kinds. Eastern part in the morning and Central part in the afternoon. Finally, beautiful pictures of rhinos with the good light, a heard of elephants being refreshed at the river, three times buffaloes in the mud, the three type of dears by far, both type of monkeys and birds by far. We met and discussed with the head chief of the park, which authorizes us to enter the park earlier on thenext morning, a very very big privilege.

Fourth day: rhinos, elephants, chital, munjac, langur, eagles and water birds.

Central part in the morning and Western in the afternoon. Thanks to our early entry, 06H00 instead of 07H30, we could see from very very near a large male rhino and an awaking young one. What a great show in a foggy morning to see these prehistoric monsters grazingthree meters from us! But, also a young Indian monitor lizard taking the first sunbeams. This afternoon we will still see other rhinos but not from very near and elephants bathing.

Fifth day: rhinos, elephants, buffaloes, sambars, chitals, munjacs, langurs and macaques, eagles and water birds.

East part in the morning and central part in the afternoon. Like the days before, full of rhinos, elephants twice at the river, buffaloes in water and mud, the three type of dears, both type of monkeys and lots of birds.

Sixth and last day: rhinos, elephants, buffaloes, the print of a tiger, chitals, munjacs, langurs and water birds.

Already the last safari in Kaziranga, Central part in the morning. Some rhinos of which one very near, our last elephants and buffaloes, chital and munjac dears grazing quietly, a heard of langur and a lot of migratory birds. Yesterday we missed in the afternoon a male tiger whose pugmarks could be seen in the tracks of our jeep. The rangers say to us that a large male passed yesterday on the track 15 minutes after us. And it is already the exit of the park with a beautiful rhino near the gate which seems to say to us, “Bye! See you soon.” Thus again 06H00 of bus + 23H00 of train to join Varanasi, our favorite city.

VARANASI – my favorite city in India

In the night during the crossing of Bihar, my wife’s backpack (hung under her with chains and lock) was stolen. All of her clothing, shoes, large medicine bag and large bag of toys to give to one poor family, were stolen.

We remained eight days in this city that, I say one more time, we love. We stayed in two different places, initially three nights in Maruti Guest House in Assi Ghat then four nights in Gampati Guest House in Meer Ghat.

What happiness to find oneself in this city full with contrast and so alive!The pleasure of walking every morning on the Ghats to take pictures of these nice Indian people.

After one night in the train for Delhi, a car driver awaited us at the railway station direction Uttaranchal and Jim Corbett N.P.

JIM CORBETT NATIONAL PARK – UTTARANCHAL

Fauna presents in the park: 135 tigers, about 100 leopards, about 800 elephants, sambar dear, chital dear, langur, macaque, 10 to 30 sloth, bears, otter, python, cobra, gavial, crocodile, monitor lizard and over 280 bird species.

The dream of much of the visitors of national parks in India is to see the bengal tiger in front of them. It is also the dream of all Indians, therefore thereare now crowds in the parks where the tiger easily lets itself see (Corbett, Kanha, Bandhavgardh). Further, the directors of these parks have authorised the entry of too many cars.

We have stayed in Ramnagar 2 km of the gate of Ijrani in the East of the park, the first afternoon safari was donefrom this gate. As usual, after the entry, a troop of elephants wishes us the welcome, we remain more than 45 mn with them. A wind of madness does seize all the jeeps of the surroundings; a tiger was seen. Everybody drives speeds to have the opportunity to see the tiger!

We arrive in the dried up bed of a river where about fifteen jeeps are vying for the best position to see a beautiful male tiger laying down at more than 200 meters far from them! What madness to see all these people getting down from the jeeps, which is prohibited, jumping from jeep into jeep by hustling all and all on their passage (impossible to take a good picture because of that) and shouting instead of keeping silent. Still more shouts, the animal condescends to rise and aproach us.

The tiger, aggravated by the noise and the madness of the vehicles decides to go up on a hill and disappears. Our driver (very profesional and calm, I am always lucky to have the best one) places our jeep on the way of the tiger; after 10 mn waiting there it is on the road 10 meters in front of us. Unfortunately, we are not alone and the other jeeps are hustled, they overtake us and make flee the majestic king of the Jungle definitively in the thick forest. Result: only two good pictures.

Second day, morning Bijrani Gate, afternoon Jhiona Gate: chitals, sambars, langurs, macaques, king vulture, king fishers and many birds.

No tiger in this second day but great pictures of dears and monkeys as well as king vulture (vulture with red head), the track of a very large python having crossed the road 15/20 mn before us.

Third day, morning Jhina Gate, afternoon Bijrani Gate: chitals, sambars, langurs, macaques, king cobra, king fishers and many birds.

No tigers, elephants or leopards, pugmarks of a sloth, bear and a king cobra fleeing with our approach.

The following day visits in morning of the winter house of Jim Corbett 25 km of Ramanagar before going back to Delhi.

Thus not so conclusive that this 2nd park of which I had a joy, it would have been necessary that we stayed in the North of the park in luxuary lodges to have access to the gate which goes towards Dhikala in the center of the park where finds gavials, crocodiles and other headlights of the park. It is my fault, I wanted to save money while placing in Ramnagar.

KEOLADEO NATIONAL PARK – BHARATPUR – RAJASTHAN

Fauna presents in the park: sambar dear, chital dear, blue bull (Nilgai antelope), langurs, mongooses, jackals, striped hyena, python, cobra, water snake and over 430 species of birds.

A sad news in connection with this park: the female tiger which had flees died of disease in July 2005.

As usual in Bharatpur, we stayed in Ashok and Indu place at the Safari Guest House which is a place not expensive and really clean with one calm and slackened environment. This park is universally famous for its migratory birds and residents who come from three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe. You can visit by foot or bicycle. Siberian cranes come to spend the winter there. I was lucky to see from very near a family: the mother, the father and the baby. This time I didn’t see any of the pythons because it was too cold so that they leave their burrows (22 to 24 °C only).

I took nice pictures of male and female blue bulls in the marshes, of sambars as well as a few birds including one colony of 3,000 storks.

After eight days on Bharatpur, we went to Udaipur by Jaipur always in a car with a driver and Ambassador. Two days of rest and shopping in Jaipur and housing in a Maharadja Hotel. A suite nicely decorated to rest! We discovered that it is in Jaipur that Indian traditional puppets are manufactured, will bring back from there 19 pairs! One hopes to resell some.

Departure early to join Udaipur 350 km from there. We take the national highway with arrival at the beginning of afternoon. We stayed in Kankarwa Haveli on the edge of the lake in front of the famous white marble palace used for the James Bond film, “Octopussy”.

Udaipur is a very tourist city but alleviating thanks to its lake and palaces. Visit of the city palace, boat trip on the lake and shopping downtown take us our three days on the spot. We failed to bring back a pup we met downtown, but considering the French Administrative formalities, we gave up the idea.

RANTHAMBHORE NATIONAL PARK – RAJASTHAN

Fauna presents in the park: tigers, leopards, sloth bears, sambar dears, chital dears, blue bulls (Nilgai antelope), Indian antelopes, langurs, crocodiles, pythons, cobras and 250 species of birds.

At 06 AM we started in direction of Sawai Madhopur, the city near Ranthambhore. We raised there towards 06 PM just after night had fallen.

The park of Ranthambhore is in this moment in the storm. Indeed a recrudescence of the poaching with fact of falling the number of tigers with 22 and that of the bears to 10. One week before we visit it 5 people of the park had been arrested for poaching. This fact the park can be visited only in Canters (trucks carrying 22 noisy tourists); 12 Jeeps have one exemption for the luxury hotels lodges.

I have there a friend who is guide naturalist in the park. We could have a jeep during the four safaris we made. The park is divided into numbered roads from 1 to 12 allotted to the various vehicles entering the park. Best are the 5 and the 6.

1st morning day: road N° 6: 2 tigers, sambars, chitals, langurs, blue bulls and a lot of birds of which one was a king vulture with red head.

Entry at 06H30, the temperature of the night is still cold : 6 °C. After checking inside the park, we directly went to stay in observation close to one of the lakes of the park where a female tiger and its two cubs of 18 months have elected for residence since a few days. After 5 mn one of the cubs (the male) leaves tall grasses and poses for the posterity in front of the vehicles. His sister comes to join it a short moment before they do return into the tall grasses for waiting the return of their mother. Two or three good pictures, that starts well.

We leave to explore road 6 until 11H00, the exit time of the park. Sambars, chitals, blue bulls and langurs are left to photograph, as well as a king vulture with red head which does not fly away of it tree when we approach.

First afternoon day: road N° 5: 3 tigers, sambars, chitals, langurs, blue bulls, crocodiles and a lot of birds.

Entry at 02 PM, it is 26 °C, it is better than in the morning. In a curve of the road 6 the female tigers and 2 cubs of the morning walk on. The rest of the afternoon we followed road 5 where sambars, chitals, langurs, blue bulls and other birds still give us some beautiful pictures spots, like some crocodiles.

Second morning day: road N° 6: sambars, chitals, langurs, blue bulls and lot of birds.

This morning lots of pugmarks of tigers but no visual contacts. That’s no problem, once again sambars, chitals, langurs, blue bulls and lot of birds are there.

Secord afternoon day: road N° 2: sloth bear, tiger, sambars, chitals, langurs, blue bulls, crocodiles and lot of birds.

The road N° 2 is not famous for its spots of tiger but the forest is very nice there. After half an hour we see emerging of our line a male sloth bear which crosses the road in front of us at full run! Brilliant, no picture but what a sensational feeling. After a long curve in the thick forest a large male tiger is lengthened across the road. We are absolutely alone during more than an hour with the king of the Indian forest who scrapes its head, changes position with less than three meters from us!!! I took more than 200 pictures and a lot are superb.

For the return and the last exit of the park we saw sambars, chitals, langurs, blue bulls and lots of birds. Fresh pugmarks of a male leopard crossed our road but we didn’t see it.

Ranthambhore, as to each time I went there does not disapoint me. It is the fourth time that I was there and it is always too superb and magic, it is my favorite park by far.

Departure at late evening to rejoin Jaipur then the following day connection until Agra to take a night train which take us to Umaria in Madhya Pradesh the nearest railway station from Bandhavgardh N.P.

BANDHAVGARDH NATIONAL PARK – MADHYA PRADESH

Fauna presents in the park: 60 tiger including 20 in the tourist zone, 30 leopard, 15 to 30 sloth bear, sambar dears, chital dears, macaques, langurs, pythons, cobras and 250 species of birds.

We joined Umaria at 06 AM at the lodge (the Nature Heritage lodge). A car takes us along to the park. We left our luggage at the hotel and we had our first safari. The weather is very cold at night and in early morning in December in that part of India.

More than 90 jeeps are authorised in this small park, a madness. The guard of the park is an obligation and really not used. This park is almost dedicated to the tiger. Since the end of 2002, it is now impossible to do one two-hour elephant ride, the elephants are used only for “the elephant circus”. These are three elephants which take turns to show with four people at the same time. The tigers are located in the forest during 3 to 4 mn. and for 12 euros per person, it is a big business, as in Pench and Kanha.

First morning day: Langurs, chitals, marabou, storks. We hope to see the tiger, no chance, only the pugmarks, we saw a few chitals, langurs and some marabous. I must ask the driver to stop to take them in picture!

First afternoon day: Langurs, chitals, sambars, marabou, storks and some birds. Same circus from the morning.

Second morning day: 3 tigers, langurs, chitals, marabou, storks and some birds. After a race with several jeeps we stop to await our turn for an elephant ride: a female tiger and three youngs (15 months old) are located. After 45 minutes of waiting, it is our turn, we are with an Indian tourist and his son (eight years old), we saw these three tigers exactly 3,30 mn and because the father and the kid were moving all times we didn’t take any good pictures, those of my wife are all fuzzy because of the kid who didn’t stopped pushing her to see the tigers. Afflicting spectacle, or how to make money on the back of the tourists.

Second afternoon day: Langurs, chitals, sambars, marabou, storks and some birds. I explained to our driver that we are also interested by the remainder of the fauna of the park, we are not here to see only the tiger.

Third morning day: 5 tigers, langurs, chitals, sambars, marabou, storks and some birds. The driver had understood us, we stop when we grow too rare animals. My wife decided not to come more the morning, too cold (-2 °C at the beginning this morning) and not enough of visible animals. We arrive at the concentration of vehicles awaiting their turn for the Elephant Circus. There I had make 2 turns for the price of one this morning; I am likely to talk with a Kénian of Indian origin who is biologist and naturalist; he explains to me why best is to go up on the last elephant making the circus and by giving a tip to the mahout (100 rupees: 2 euros) one can remain longer. We climb both on an elephant, he prevents two Indian tourists to join us. The 1st turn we will be 7 mn near a female tiger and it’s 4 cubs 18 months eating, 2 Sambar dears; and 15 mn the 2nd time! Unfortunately he leaves the park the very same day. Thank you very much my friend, and he invites us to Kenya where he works for the national parks and the conservation of the vultures in Africa.

Third afternoon day: Langurs, chitals, sambars, marabou storks, king vulture and some birds. Just a king vulture with red head, not many things to see.

Fourth morning day: Langurs, chitals, sambars, marabou storks and some birds. This morning I said to the driver that I did not want elephant circus so we turned in to the park to see few animals.

Fourth afternoon day: Langurs, chitals, sambars, marabou storks, king vulture, some birds and also parasitic lianas on trees. We decided this afternoon to make pictures of the forest and especially of a parasitic species of liana which makes nodes around other species of trees. The driver and the guide do not understand our passion for this trick, but it is splendid and we appreciate the spectacle.

Fifth morning day: three tigers, langurs, chitals, sambars, marabou storks, king vulture and some birds. This morning the chance is with me! We enter first in the park and after 20 mn along one of the roads, we see a female tiger and it’s two cubs 2 years old (already two beautiful males larger than it!) to go in front of us and to stop at the edge of the road. I had 8 mn of pure happiness alone with them before the other cars with their noisy tourists arrived. Three of them overtake me and put themselves between the tigers and me and shout, “Tigers, tigers”. Result: the 3 tigers run into the forest. Indian tourists who do not respect anything! One wants to throw them in the mouth of the tiger to make them conceal.

Fifth afternoon day: Langurs, chitals, sambars, peacocks and some birds. Like everyday, puff out dust behind the other jeeps and anything to see because of too much noise.

Sixth morning day: Two peacocks! The roads which we take into the park are given every morning at the entry by one of the persons in charge of the park. This morning for my 6th day, they give me the road B where there are no animals. I make a scandal and before the end of the safari I say to the driver and to the guide to bring me back to the hotel. We decide not to make the afternoon safari, it is too much.

Assessment of Bandhavgardh:

Two full days are largely sufficient to visit this small park. To see the tiger, it is necessary to have an “elephant circus”. The famous French photographer, François Savigny, at the time of his last stay in this park was fired off by the director. He asked to be able to take pictures of tigers. Not possible now even for profesional photographers, therefore they do not come any more in this park.

So it is better to remain longer in Ranthambhore than in Bandhavgardh. When it is known that the foreign tourists 10 times more expensive than the Indians one expects another thing than this elephant circus . Kipling and Corbett must be turned over in their tomb!

Assessment of these 5 Indian parks:

Kaziranga – Assam: 9 out of 10; Park very well preserved, lot of animals, really profesional gards and guides.

Corbett – Uttaranchal: 6 out of 10; Too many authorized vehicles.

Keoladeo – Rajasthan: 9 out of 10; for the bird-watchers a paradise.

Ranthambore – Rajasthan: 9.5 out of 10; My favourite park, very professional guides, lot of animals to be seen.

Bandhavgardh – Madhya Pradesh: 2.5 out of 10; My Disappointment of the trip, guards and guides obscured by the tiger and not professional.

Categories
Experiential Travel

Living Like a Local in Seoul, South Korea

Gabriela Castelan has been teaching English in an elementary school in Seoul, South Korea for almost two years. She’s originally from New Jersey, U.S.A. You can follow her blog at hengboksoul.wordpress.com.

Q: What’s one thing most tourists don’t know about where you live?

A: Imagine a company picnic in which you have to go hiking up a mountain for at least two hours with a giant backpack, food, drinks and gear — well, that scenario is actually not that uncommon in Korea. Many tourists probably don’t know how popular hiking is as a hobby for many Koreans. Hiking is not a joke here; Koreans are very serious about it. Many people spend their weekends going to different hiking areas, parks and mountains.

Q: What’s the worst culture shock you experienced as you settled into your new home?

A: The worst culture shock was seeing how many people constantly push, shove and don’t form lines when it comes to getting on a train or bus. I had read about how forming lines isn’t really “a thing” here, but it was shocking to experience first-hand when I was terrified of using transportation to go anywhere! I barely notice it now, but it was amplified when I first arrived.

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Q: Do you find that living in a foreign country makes you a better traveler when you visit other places? If so, how?

A: Living in a foreign country has definitely made me a better traveler. Leaving the U.S. and coming to live on the other side of the world was a little scary, to say the least, but I feel it has given me a sense of adventure and the courage to visit other countries. You can’t be a good traveler without having that desire to travel, which is exactly what I feel living in Korea has given me. Even within Korea, there are places I have yet to see but definitely want to. Always wanting to know and see more is a key ingredient to becoming a better traveler.

Q: Which tourist attraction in Seoul is most overrated, and where should travelers go instead?

A: Going up to see Namsan Tower in Seoul feels a bit overrated. The view is gorgeous, and it’s interesting to see the many locks placed on the tower to signify either eternal love or friendship, but it’s crowded with people and there’s barely any room to take a nice picture without someone walking into your shot.

If you have some time to spend in Seoul, I would recommend going to Bukhansan National Park and climbing up Bukhansan Mountain. Note that it’s a bit of a strenuous climb though. A few friends and I made the mistake of thinking the hike would be similar to a nature walk. It wasn’t, and most of us stopped halfway through the hike, but one friend did make it to the top. He told us the view was spectacular, and you could really see how gorgeous Seoul looked. So if you’re fit and you really want a view of the city, Bukhansan is the place to go to.

Q: No one should visit South Korea without tasting ________.

A: Dolsot bibimbap. This amazing food is a mixture of vegetables, rice, beef and a fried egg. It’s all individually cooked and then put together in a hot stone pot called a dolsot. The rice is put at the bottom so the heat from the dolsot can give it a nice crunch. When it is served, it is up to you to finish the job by mixing all of the delicious ingredients together with your chopsticks or spoon and then digging in.

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Q: What’s the toughest thing about being an expat? The most rewarding?

A: I think the toughest part of being an expat is figuring out how not to feel lonely during the family-oriented holidays. South Korea has its own version of Thanksgiving that lasts for about three days. It’s pretty rough on expats because almost everything is closed; Koreans spend that time with their families. It can feel pretty lonely when you can’t spend time with your own family on holidays because they are so far away.

One of the most rewarding things of being an expat is recognizing the great things about this country. Seeing a way of life that is so different from my own is always a fascinating experience. Korea has an interesting culture; convenient, cheap and clean subways; safe neighborhoods and delicious food. Even after I leave South Korea, I know I will miss what I have experienced here.

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Categories
Travel Trends

Retiring Abroad: A Beginner’s Guide

Americans are moving and retiring abroad in record numbers; some do so to fulfill a dream of tropical or alpine ease, some to save money, some for adventure. According to USA Today, nearly 400,000 American retirees are currently living abroad, and that number is expected to rise.

The attraction of retiring overseas is not limited to those approaching traditional retirement age. In fact, many eager potential transplants are younger folks looking to “retire early,” or to escape the rat race, or to live a simpler (or even identical) lifestyle in their own idea of paradise. And some folks don’t want to retire at all per se; they may want to go lead rafting tours, run a B&B or offer photography workshops in their new home.

Whichever way your pleasure tends, here is a primer on making your dream of retiring abroad a reality.

Know Thyself

Knowing a lot about a destination may be less important than knowing a lot about yourself. Suzan Haskins, senior editor for International Living, offers the following advice.

“Profile yourself ruthlessly,” she said. “Being a tourist is far different than being a resident. So knowing what makes you comfortable personally (especially from a cultural standpoint) and what drives you crazy is important.”

Haskins offers a great example: “If you’re a big city person and love to get away from the rat race on vacation and do nothing but hang in a hammock on an undiscovered beach, you may think that’s how you want to spend your retirement. But think hard about that — can you really give up the symphony and the theater and shopping malls? You may be better suited to a larger city with proximity to the beach.”

Do Your Research

By the time a destination hits the “Best Places to Retire” lists (the mainstream media lists, at least), many of the best properties are gone, prices are up and Amerians abound.

Showing up late to the party may not always be a bad thing, however — not everyone has the fortitude to be among the first expats in a new location, and to have had some folks clear the logistical brush can be a tremendous help.

Whether leading or following, you will want to do a heap of research, especially on the more mundane aspects of everyday life.

“You need to research everything, from the climate during various seasons, the housing options, the infrastructure (including internet reliability), to all the legalities, including visa qualifications, tax obligations, requirements for bringing your pets and duties if you bring your household goods,” Haskins says. “Most importantly, be sure you will have good access to quality health care, and know your options for health insurance.”

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Do a Test Run

When I was in college, an older friend and mentor spoke frequently about retiring to the homeland of his ancestors, and worked hard to save money to be able to retire there. Upon his retirement, he and his wife were gone within a month — and were back a couple of months later.

“It was terrible,” he told me. “It was cold and wet, the people were not welcoming, it was impossible to get around, and within two weeks I wanted out.”

As we all know from our own travels, very few destinations turn out exactly as expected, and this goes 24 x 7 x 365 for a place in which you intend to spend the rest of your life. If there is any one thing you should do before pulling up roots for good, it is to take a long, uninterrupted stay in your intended location. A long vacation or even a couple of weeks won’t quite cut it; shoot for a couple of months, a season or even a year.

“We always recommend that you not buy property at first, but rent until you get some experience under your belt,” Haskins advises.

While you’re there, see what it costs to get a week’s worth of groceries, what it costs to eat out and how easy it is to get simple services like a haircut or a car service. The mundane activities you ignore on vacation can become essential when you live there.

Do a Real Budget

A big part of the expat experience, especially for retirees, is figuring out recurring expenses. The exercise of putting together a budget should include everything you pay for at home, plus:

– Increased electrical costs in a hotter/colder climate

– Potentially higher gasoline costs

– Cost of internet access and high-end electronics

– Home, car and health insurance

– Cost of transport for medical care

– Whether you will maintain Medicare, which does not cover you overseas but may be useful if you need to return to the U.S. for medical treatment

– Any unusual home expenses, such as security systems, waste disposal costs, etc.

– The cost of visits back home, whether to see family or for weddings, funerals, banking or estate issues, emergencies and the like

Other money concerns might be access to stateside bank accounts, whether your pension/Social Security/other check can be sent by mail or (even better) direct deposit, if there are local bank branches to do simple banking, if there are any really onerous tax implications, if your accountant can work with you remotely and more.

While it is true you can live overseas pretty cheaply, don’t ignore startup costs, which can be formidable.

“It’s quite easy to live in many locations overseas on $2,000 a month,” Haskins says (she and her husband Dan Prescher have even written a book about it), “but there will be startup costs. In the first months, you’ll need to pay for your visas and any associated legal costs. You’ll probably have a first- and last-month rental deposit, you’ll want to buy some one-time supplies and furnishings for your rental home, and so on.”

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Learn the Language and Understand the Culture

Expat lore is rife with folks who did not seem to fit in at their new “home” until they truly mastered the local language. Some stick it out while others are driven away, but almost everyone thinks it is important.

Beyond the language issue, you will want to investigate the local culture and norms of behavior. The differences can be quite jarring; witness Vanessa Van Doren’s list of cultural shifts she needed to adapt to upon moving from the U.S. to Germany — and then compare them to Ed Keith’s very different experience after moving from the U.K. to Spain. Germany and Spain are only about 600 miles apart, but the cultural differences will make your head spin.

“The biggest challenge/surprise is probably culture shock,” Haskins notes. “Nowhere is just like your home country. There will be different laws (or lack thereof) and different ways of doing things. You may not be able to find your favorite brand of peanut butter or scotch, and if you do, it may be crazy expensive, thanks to import tariffs. And again, the language issue: The little things you take for granted (ordering a pizza, asking the guy at the hardware store for a specific item, going to the pharmacy) can be daunting.”

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Talk About the Weather

You might think of Ecuador as a hot, balmy country, but the most popular expat roost there is Cuenca, a mountain town with temperate weather year-round with a record high temperature of 80 degrees. The rainy season features sunny mornings and rainy afternoons. Farther north, the interior of El Salvador is similar but flipped, with frost in the morning and cooking sun in the afternoon.

So while you might think of South and Central America as hot all the time, this is not always the case; be sure to do your research.

Further Considerations

Check out the nearest medical facilities — as a rule, the farther from the major cities you get, the more dramatically the types and quality of care drop off.

If you’re approaching retirement age, you may not want to live up on a mountain or in a treehouse.

Look into pet policies, including quarantine laws and local restrictions.

Research the requirements and timeline to get a driver’s license.

Know the local home ownership and property rights laws, including whether residency/citizenship is required to own property and whether you must reside in the house for a minimum amount of time each year.

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Go Anyway

Finally, Haskins says that keeping your wits about you can make all the difference.

“The only thing I would add is not to leave your brains at the border,” she says. “There is a great big, wonderful world to explore, but do that with common sense and the same kind of careful deliberation and self-preservation you would rely on at home. Don’t trust someone just because they speak your language, for example. Give relationships time to develop. Keep an open mind and enjoy the experience. This is not rocket science … there are lots of great resources to help you and expat forums (such as those at International Living) where you can get advice and suggestions.

“All these little issues will work themselves out over time, and those who have a positive attitude and approach every day as an adventure will thrive and LOVE the experience. The biggest pleasant surprise is how much you will personally grow and change over time. Living in a different culture not only broadens your horizons but [also] keeps you young, and if you let it, it can make you a better person.”

Would you consider retiring abroad?

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Categories
Experiential Travel

Living Like a Local in Manchester, England

Andrea Jaeckel is originally from New Jersey, but after completing her PhD in clinical psychology she joined her husband in Munich, Germany, where they lived for more than a year. Though she loved Germany, she couldn’t practice psychology there without redoing her training, so she and her husband moved to England and have been living in the Manchester area for 2.5 years. She now works in a hospital doing assessment and therapy with older adults who have had strokes or brain injuries.

Q: What’s one thing most tourists don’t know about where you live?

A: There isn’t one English accent. There are actually many, and they’re usually first broken down into northern and southern. Southern accents are what Americans typically think of as the English accent — it’s the one where they don’t use Rs at the end of words, and use long vowels. If you are interested in hearing a very different accent from the north, I’d recommend looking for an example of the scouse accent of Liverpool online. When my husband and I first moved here, we could barely understand people there! Aside from accents, British and American English are very different, from sentence structure and spellings to idioms and abbreviations. Two and a half years later, I’m still getting the hang of it.

Q: What’s the worst culture shock you experienced as you settled into your new home?

A: Where I live in the U.K., there are the fewest Americans around of anywhere I’ve lived. At the hospital where I work, people are constantly shocked that I’m from the US. They usually guess that I’m Canadian, citing my “softer” accent as the reason why. That can make it pretty lonely here. Also, obviously, driving on the left side of the road and sitting on the right side of the car. I’m learning to drive manual now because a manual license lets you drive both manual and automatic, whereas an automatic license only lets you drive automatic cars. It’s a lot to think about and remember for someone who has been driving for almost two decades on the other side!

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Q: Do you find that living in a foreign country makes you a better traveler when you visit other places? If so, how?

A: Yes, absolutely. Firstly, it’s just much easier to travel. When I lived in Germany, we could be in several other countries in a couple of hours! Over here, I can be in Ireland in an hour, and mainland Europe in a few — not bad. Living abroad makes me much more conscious of some of the shortcomings of America, and makes me appreciate what other countries have to offer so much more. Also, now that I’ve lived in 2 countries outside of the U.S., I’ve been exposed to many new ways to do things. I’m more adventurous and can speak more languages.

Q: Which tourist attraction in the U.K. is most overrated, and where should travelers go instead?

A: That’s a hard one; I haven’t really been disappointed by any of the tourist sites I’ve been to. To be fair, though, most Americans just really go to London, Stratford-upon-Avon and Bath (at least that’s what I did when I came here to visit as a child). I would recommend also visiting Edinburgh, York and my absolute favorite, Chester. Founded in the first century, Chester is one of the only cities that still has a completely intact Roman wall ringing the old town. There are adorable Tudor buildings, a gorgeous cathedral, and fun and unique places to shop. Also, there’s a fantastic zoo there, and the city borders Wales. Check it out!

Q: No one should visit the U.K. without tasting __________.

A: Fish and chips and mushy peas (I really love the mushy peas). Do not eat the trifle … waste of calories!

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Q: What’s the toughest thing about being an expat? The most rewarding?

A: The toughest thing is being so far away from my friends and family, especially on major American holidays. I have a very good college friend who also lives over here, and we’ve celebrated some holidays together, but mostly I try to get home. I’ve had to miss births of friends’ babies. I also miss the spontaneity of calling people the minute I think of it. We’re five hours ahead of the U.S. East Coast and eight hours ahead of the West Coast. I’m constantly doing math!

The most rewarding thing, though, is seeing how my education and training stand up abroad, and how I can make a meaningful contribution to the lives of people in other countries. My husband and I are making a life for ourselves here, and we’re thriving, which I’m really proud of. I love how outdoorsy people are in Europe, and we’ve been taking advantage of hiking a lot. We hiked in the Alps in Germany, and now we hike in the Lake District and Peak District here in the U.K.

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Categories
Arts & Culture

Synopsis of European Trip, Fall 2006

Author: California Dreamer
Date of Trip: October 2006

Italy is so rich in history and art, we are still dreaming of all the wonderful sights we have taken in over the 4 weeks. The highlight of our trip was our 7 days at “il poggio,” our timeshare exchange, 70 kilometers from Siena. We were only 5 minutes from a 14th century village of San Casciano de bagni, a delightful medieval village perched on the next hillside from our “il poggio,” which means hill. We fell in love with this village, its people, and small trattorias, etc. Our timeshare was a lovely apartment with a small kitchen, a patio on top of a hill overlooking the Tuscan Valley. There were beautiful sunrises and sunsets from our windows, and we only experienced 1 day of rainfall, during which we packed and stoked a fire in our fireplace and then dined by candlelight in the 5-star chef restaurant that evening–so lovely, peaceful and beautiful.

We rented a small car for 7 days and drove to Assisi, Montepulciano, Piensa (a dear favorite), and trained to Siena for a day. My Italian conversation class helped me survive the non-speaking Italians in the many small villages of Tuscany. Earlier in our trip we visited Milan and Florence for a night and Santa Margharita Ligure for 2 evenings taking trips to Cinque Terre, our children’s favorite Italian spots.

Like my sister who had been there 2 weeks prior, we experienced the Amalfi coast, merely taking the drive along it stopping for lunch and then heading back by highway to Pompeii where we weaved our way through the preserved streets of yesteryear. Our guide was awesome and walked us through an everyday preview of the life of a Pompeian. She was funny, very loquacious and most knowledgeable–a memorable delight! Pompeii requires far more time than the 2-3 hours we experienced, and it is remarkable how well the Napolitano have preserved it in comparison to the restored Roman ruins.

The other 3 weeks of our trip were packed with numerous stops in Dubrovnik, Croatia; Barcelona, Spain; Cannes, Monte Carlo/Monaco, France, spending a day with the French exchange student we hosted last summer for 3 weeks. He and his mother Christine gave us a taste of their country, driving us to Monte Carlo/Monaco to view the castle of Princess Grace (Kelly) just in time to view the changing of the guard. We had a nice lunch and a charming 4 pm French crepe snack by the sea in Cannes as we watch the French families play at the park with much delight.. We saw many other towns of Italy including 2 days in Venice enjoying a sunset gondola ride on the grand canal and quiet back canals listening to the children studying and the parents chatting while preparing their evening meals; a taste of cannoli in Messina, Sicily; a small jaunt to Pisa and Lucca; and three lovely days at sea enjoying free spa time, dancing, contests, shows and good food. I judged the hairy chest contest and won champagne!

We feel like we have gotten a full grasp of Italy during these 4 weeks, and Rome was the magnificent end spending 3 nights with Adriana Gagliardi sharing her apt. with 2 bedrooms and bath and access to her lovely living room, breakfast room and patios for a very fair price including breakfast. Staying with her was like having family waiting for us in Rome, having met her 2 nieces and nephews who met and greeted us. She saved us hundreds of euros advising us to take the train to our ship and to the airport which was an unforgettable experience. Rome by night was awesome, and seeing Pope Benedict 2-arms length away returning from a trip to the University in his car, was a spectacular surprise. After 2 long cold hours waiting in line, we experienced the Sistine Chapel and the wondrous hallways leading up to it. We dined by the Pantheon by candlelight and celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary 30 times this month!

We stayed healthy with no colds, etc., with the only exception being some mighty strong A-fib while climbing the wall of Dubrovnik for 2-3 hours. Bob thought he may have to carry me back down to the city, due to racing heart, lightheadedness and acrophobia, but I believe it was dehydration since we only carried one bottle of water and had to stop for some lemon gelato!

We felt very blessed during the cruise, when dozens of people lost their luggage flying to Europe having to wear the same shirt for 3 days on the ship. We loaned them articles in the meantime and gave thanks for learning to pack lightly and carry-on half or most of our luggage.

Categories
Student Travel

A Fine Semester in London

Author: WackyHeathen
Date of Trip: September 2003

As an English major, studying abroad in the United Kingdom was almost a prerequisite.Mycollege’s only international option forLit studieswas London, so I didn’t have much say in the matter. Had it not been for the fact that quite a few of my fellow English majors and friends had decided to go, I may not have ever gone in the first place. I’m not sure what my rationale was, but in retrospect, I can’t say why my mouth wasn’t watering at the chance to get the hell out of Hamilton, NY for a semester.

I took British Airways from JFK to Heathrow. We were given a group rate, which I recall being about $700 for the roundtrip flight. I had an aisle seat next to a kindly man from Lebanon. Fortunately for us no one ever claimed the window seat, and after exchanging a knowing nod and grin, he shifted over to the window. After that we became fast friends. We had overcome the differences of race, religion, socio-economic background, age etc., transcending these arbitrary distinctions, meeting in an elevated place, somewhere between thought and action. The rest of the flight went smoothly.

Communal Flat Living
My apartment was on Hatton Garden (Chancery Lane and Farringdon Stations), a streetknown as the diamond district of London. There was a steady stream of Hasidic Jewsrushingabout duringnormal businesshours. The combination of traditional black dress, beards, and payos (long, distinctive sideburns) were a nice complement to their $500 cell phones and $5000 rings. As one may imagine, there was also a Kosher Knoshery on the street, which claimed to be a 24 hour establishment. I found that when I needed them most, they consistently let me down. In fact, besides the fashionable night clubs, London pretty much shuts down at 11 p.m. For someonein awe of the24 hour spirit of New York City, this was a bitof a let down.

I was a little apprehensive when I arrived at the apartment. I knew that there were to be seven of us living together in what looked like a somewhat limited space. In London, the cost of real estate in generalisfrightening. Fortunately, I arrived early enough to choose one of the two double rooms. Even then, my roomate and I were a bit cramped, but this is one of the costs of city living. The triple room was utterly ridiculous. The three guys that were stuck on top of each other deserved it though.I sighed contentedly everytime I noticed their room decomposing into a den of puerile filth.There was a small kitchen in the flat, which really caused more aggravation than it was worth. As soon as one person started to cook dinner, everyone decided that, well you know,they would try to do it at the same time. And because no one could agree on how to share the economic burden on necessities –milk, sugar,condiments –everyone simply purchased their own. On the last night we made a delicious meal, using everything that was left over. I guess it was sort of a fried rice/pasta/cereal with chocolate syrup, honey, peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar andeverything in the spice cabinet.

I decided after about the first week that I would just eat out every meal. It was expensive to do so in London, but worth it for the piece of mind it gave me. I was never stressed out during dinner time. You simply have to find a cheap spot that you can be happy eating four or five meals a week. There are sandwich places all over the city. My favorite was a place by the British Museum and the Florida State Center — whereour classes were held–called The Colesseum. I would usually get the Ham Calabrese salad sandwich.

A group of seven guys in a tight space for three months makes for a sociological experiment with painfully obvious results. The ad hominems flowed freely. Everyone thought they were great cooks. Word of advice, if you’re with someone who claims to be an amazing cook, whilealso insisting that oil should be heated until the entire apartment is filled withdense white smoke, don’t believe anything he says.

There were weekly physical confrontations over things like someone borrowing mayonaise without asking, or someone not calling “fives” after getting up from an open seat, and then having one of your scumbag roomates take the seat and refuse to return it. There were tears. There were TV dinners thrown at people, which exploded on contact. After a month, I learned that the flat we were sharing had a value of 700k.

Getting About the City
London is a great walking city, and you can get pretty much anywhere in zone one –which is where most of the “attractions”are located –in under 40 minutes. The zones are simply designated areas that radiate outwards from the center of the city. As it’s almost impossible to get lost, it’s nice to just walk around and explore. I would often find myself in some little park sharing a bench with a toothless idiot who kept asking me if I liked “maf.” He would then proceed to show me a “maf” trick of alarming stupidity. He wanted some money, but as a poor college student, he would have to be a little more impressive.

I’d also walk around until I found one of London’s numerous librarys, where I would sit at a reading table next to some loon who kept me in complete confusion, babbling incoherently for over an hour. Like any other major city, there are a lot of homeless people about, and if you’re in the habit of walking the same routes, you’ll get to know quite a few of these insane people and their diseased animals too.

I wrote a research paper about infectious disease in the Victorian period, so I was able to get a pass to use the The Wellcome Library, alarge medical research library with a huge selection of original texts. If you would like to be repulsed/fascinated by human health and behavior, this is your place. It was also free to use.

The Tube, AKA the London Metro system, is also remarkably easy to use. It’s somewhat common,however,for certain lines to be non-functioning(strikes, repairs,loons on the tracks etc.).Sometimes your ride would be made more enjoyable by the addition of some free (sort of) entertainment. On one occasion, a homeless duo entered my car and played for the commuters between stops. Their best diddy included the ponderous line,”If you can’t shave in the public toilet, where can you shave?” They wanted money at the end of the performance.

For my final month in London, I purchased a monthly Tube pass, which was good for all bus and subway travel in zones one and two. If you want to go outside zone two to the more blue collar areas of London, you have to pay an add-on fare. I ventured outside zone two on only three occasions, and I never felt limited.

Eggs, Beans, Rotting Tomato, Chips, Sausage, English Bacon
As someone who’s obsessed with food, I found London’s restaurant scene a little difficult to cope with. That said, I really don’t think France’s haughty attitude towards British food is full ydeserved. The food is just pretty mediocre. You know what country has the worst cuisine? Russia, that’s who. I will admit that I quite like the traditional English breakfast, which consists of the elements listed in the title of this section. As far as this breakfast was concerned, there was really no difference in quality from place to place. There were, however, differences in price and quantity.It takes a little effort to find the place where cost and quantity unite, but it’s worth it if you’re a miser.

One joint I did make a habit of eating at was a place in zone two called the Grain Shop (269a Portobello Rd, Ladbroke Grove Station). It’s a vegetarian take out place that allows you to choose from around 20 hot and cold dishes for three set prices (starting at 4 poundsor around $7), depending on how much you want. They also have loaves of sourdough bread for 2 pounds, or halves for 1 pound. Outside the building, quite a few vagrants would tally about the trash receptacles, waitingto claimyour leftovers.As soon as your pace of consumption slowed, the drooling and greedy staring would begin. I would get my food, and consume it with or without company in a nearby park. I was always amusing to throw the unfinished portions of the meal to the pigeons. To see pigeons fighting over an olive thatthey have no way offitting into their beaksis a simple pleasure.

When I didn’t eat out, I liked to make something called Pork & Bean casserole. Head over to the Safeway or Sainsbury’s and buy the following:Two potatoes, half a stick of butter, a can of Pork & Beans, dash of salt and pepper. I was skeptical too at first.

I had some mediocre Indian/Bangladeshi food on Brick Lane (Aldgate East or Shoreditch Stations), a street lined with empty Indian restaurants andstrategically placed hostsimploring you toenter. On one particular occasion, we had a young man giving us the standard, “all you eat,eight pounds, no seven. ” I was in the habit of being curt with these guys, and so I simply said “no!”Hefollowed inprecisely the same tone of voice,”Drugs, hashish 10 pounds, no 9.”

If you like Lebanese food, there is a small chain that’s quite good called Al-Dar (Edgeware Road or Marble Arch Stations). The prices are moderate, the staff speaks very little English (a good thing), and the food has style and substance. I was in London during Ramadam, so there were always muslims breaking the daily fast and smoking hookahs.

Cheap Thrills
I was also on a relatively tight budget — not as tight, however as the horribly stingy people that I lived with, but tight. There are, fortunately, many things to do even if you’re low on pounds sterling.

Every Sunday at Hyde Park (Marble Arch station), approximately six stops on the red line from our flat, there’ssomething called Speaker’s Corner. In the spirit of free speech and self-love, rhetoricians would come out and blabber on about whatever subject matter that they enjoyed blabbering on about. There were always quite a few people with a somewhat frightening religious fervor, be they haters of the Jews, lovers of Jesus or both. Quite often, there was this woman who went on and on about the “pure breed” of British. Her speeches were surreal, drawing large crowds of bemused onlookers, who thankfully saw her as some cosmic absurdity rather than an upholder of Aryan truth. She was mocked relentlessly, her face becoming a shade redder following every verbal assault. Anyone who tried to debate her was always met with unfailing support from the crowd, and regardless of the opposition’s rhetorical talents, crowd solidarity would quickly destroy her. She was left in a pitiful and bitter silence, eyes averted, head slightly bowed. Her pridewas all that prevented tears.

Most of the museums are free, and they are every bit as great as people say. Imperialism was a smashing success. The British Museum certainly attests to just how good it was. While they were taking over most of the known world, they were also thinking about the future. They knew quite well that the”artifacts” they plundered would be worth billions of dollars some day. Unfortunately, they didn’t foresee the ungrateful nations thatthey hadfreed demanding the return of their treasures.

The National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery are also not to be missed. If you’re in London for longer than two weeks, return visits to all the museums is really a great idea. They are just too extensive to get the feeling for in just one visit.

Things to Pay For
London has a great theatre scene. The people are quite proud of this aspect of their cultural heritage. And as part of one of my classes I was fortunate enough to see a play a week for 12 weeks. The plays ranged from West End (Broadway of London, or maybe Broadway is the West End of NYC) blockbusters like Tom Stoppard’s “Jumpers” starring Simon Russell Beale to experimental offerings staged on miniscule budgets. The Royal National Theatre offers fantastic plays at great rates. The British government believes in subsidizing the arts, and so common blokes get the chance to see Kenneth Branaugh in Mamet’s “Edmond” for about 14 pounds ($24). For the more expensive, international known plays and musicals, there is an officialHalf Price Ticket Booth at Leicester Square.

Londoners also fancy themselves having great taste in music. Instead of bland pop garbage monopolizing the charts like we have in theStates, they have a nice mixture of bland pop garbage (Atomic Kitten)and more interesting(British Sea Power) choices. I had the chance to see Radiohead at a cavernous, bunker-likevenue called Earl’sCourt (Warwick Road, Earls Court station). Myfriend said that it would be areligious experience, but I was skeptical. Itturned out to be the best concert I’ve ever been to.

Categories
Experiential Travel

Living in Southeast Asia: An Expat Speaks Out

Eric Rosenkranz left the United States in 1982 and has since lived in seven countries on four continents. For the first 20 years he worked for a big multinational company that sent him to a new place every few years. In 2004 he went out on his own, starting a strategic consultancy. He’s taken two Asian companies public and worked on everything from a microbrewery in Cambodia to a multi-country digital ad network. He currently splits his time between homes in Singapore and Phuket, Thailand.

Q: What’s one thing most tourists don’t know about where you live?

A: Southeast Asia is incredibly diverse. It has the largest Muslim country in the world (Indonesia), the largest Catholic country in Asia (Philippines), and the largest Buddhist country in the world (Thailand). Singapore is home to all ethnicities where Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs and Confucianists live together in harmony.

Q: What’s the worst culture shock you experienced as you settled into your new home?

A: It’s shocking when you realize not that people are different worldwide, but that they are all the same. No matter what your color, nationality or religion, people everywhere want to raise a family in peace and quiet, love and be loved. Culture shock is the worst when you realize that the jungle native beside you shares your deepest dreams.

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Q: Do you find that living in a foreign country makes you a better traveler when you visit other places? If so, how?

A: When you realize that people are the same, you can look beyond superficial trappings and begin to enjoy travel on a deeper level. Seeing the world-famous sights is always exciting, but sharing a meal with a family whose language you don’t speak is equally as fascinating. The more one travels, the more comfortable one gets with the incredible diversity of the world.

Q: Which tourist attraction in Southeast Asia is most overrated, and where should travelers go instead?

A: The two “must-see” places in Southeast Asia are the monumental Buddhist structure of Borobudur in Indonesia and the half Hindu/half Buddhist complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Both of these are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and well worth the hype. Take a boat ride down the Khwae Noi River in Thailand (jump off and float downstream if you like), but avoid the modern day “Bridge Over the River Kwai” in Kanchanaburi, an ugly modern structure bearing no resemblance to the bridge blown up in the classic Alec Guinness movie (which was shot in Sri Lanka!).

Also worth seeing: The “American War” museum in Hanoi, which opens your mind to a different perspective on the Vietnamese conflict of the 1960s. Dive in the Philippines and sit by a log fire in a cottage in the Genting Highlands hills of Malaysia outside Kuala Lumpur.

Q: No one should visit Southeast Asia without tasting __________.

A: Southeast Asian cuisine is best tasted as street food. Every night at 7 p.m. Singapore closes Boon Tat Street to traffic and satay stalls are erected. Get a selection of chicken, prawn and lamb skewers, dip them into peanut sauce, and enjoy them with an ice-cold beer. Have a local take you to a roadside seafood restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City (still called Saigon by those who live there) and eat fresh clams, mussels, prawns and crab with your fingers while sitting on a plastic stool. Eat fried grasshoppers in Manila and spicy papaya salad in Isaan (northeast Thailand).

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Q: What’s the toughest thing about being an expat? The most rewarding?

A: The toughest thing about being an expat is when you cannot speak the language and an entire culture is closed off to you. Conversely, the most rewarding time is when you are able to communicate, and share hope and pain and sorrow and dreams with someone of an entirely different upbringing. Even without a common language, it is amazing how well you can get along with just hand signs and a smile.

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Categories
Miscellany

Q&A: The World Is Elia and Naomi Locardi’s Home — Literally

Elia Locardi met his wife Naomi when they were teens in the Florida Keys. Today the Locardis have no home. They’re perpetual nomads, traipsing around the globe taking photos and videos, writing about their experiences and leading tours.

This March will mark the fifth consecutive year the 30-something couple has been on the road. They’re the subject of a new travel documentary by SmugMug Films, the video wing of the photo storage and sharing site SmugMug. The videos tell the behind-the-lens stories of some of its most interesting photographer users, and the Locardis certainly fit that bill. Check out the documentary below.

We caught up with the Locardis to learn more about five years with the world as their home.

Independent Traveler.com: Do you have a permanent home at all? An apartment? A mailbox?

Elia Locardi: The easiest answer is: “It’s complicated.” Selling nearly everything we owned, packing the remaining things into a five-foot-by-five-foot storage unit and leaving our permanent address behind in 2012, we relied on close friends to collect our mail for us and let us use their home address.

Naomi Locardi: To ease the burden on our friends, last year we set up an account with a family-owned shipping store in Central Florida. They now send, receive and hold shipments and mail for us, no matter how many months it takes for us to pick them up.

IT: When did the “travel bug” first hit you?

EL: We’ve always wanted to travel. It’s just that for most of our young adult lives, we focused so much on our work life and careers. In the process of trying to live the “American Dream,” we always dismissed world travel as something that we’d never be able to afford. My entire outlook on life changed during a trip to Italy in 2009, and we decided to make both photography and travel our highest priority.

NL: That trip to Italy was the first time I ever left the U.S., and when our plane took off for Rome, it was quite emotional for me. My entire life I had dreamed of visiting Italy, and that dream finally becoming a reality moved me to tears. That’s just one of the many reasons Italy means so much to us.

IT: How has technology made this choice of lifestyle possible? Do you think you could have done this 20 or 30 years ago, for instance?

EL: Traveling the world in the past would be much more intimate, and a lot of destinations would still be relatively untouched and pure. That being said, that very same intimacy was largely due to the lack of global communication. Remember, it wasn’t so long ago that we were using payphones and calling cards. Simple things like staying in contact with family was extremely difficult, so along with that intimacy with a place, you would have to also accept more isolation.

NL: These days we really tend to take technology for granted, especially when it comes to personal communication. Now, at any moment and no matter where I happen to be in the world, I can easily send a text or Facebook message to my mom and dad.

IT: What is the hardest thing about living permanently on the road?

NL: Simple things, like staying connected. Sometimes a reliable internet connection can be very hard to come by. Other than that, you’d be surprised how quickly you can adapt to this lifestyle.

EL: When you boil it down, it’s not home that you miss, it’s the feeling of home. And those feelings can be replicated no matter where you go.

IT: Traveling as a couple can’t be a bed of roses all the time! What advice do you have for other couples or groups to ensure they maintain peace and happiness on the road?

NL: When you travel full-time, you’re basically always together and most often you’re sharing a small hotel room or apartment. Since we also work together, it can be a challenge to give each other the space we may need. It really takes being able to communicate to each other when those times are and respecting one another’s varying needs.

EL: This type of lifestyle requires a strong relationship and the ability to be very courteous and understanding. If you want to travel perpetually long term, try to find ways you can both spend time together, and have revitalizing activities apart as well.

IT: Tell us about an interaction you had with a local that made a big impact on you and has stayed with you.

NL: During our time in Bhutan early last year, our guide helped arrange a photo shoot with a local woman who was a nomadic yak herder. We were photographing her in the morning as she went about gathering milk from the herd. After she finished, she ran along with the herd to guide them out to pasture, and I followed.

As we started back toward the rest of our team, she grabbed my hand and we walked hand in hand all the way back to her shelter. As we approached, they asked why we were holding hands, and I replied, “When a local Bhutanese woman grabs your hand, you don’t ask questions; you simply take her hand back and enjoy the moment.” It was a special moment, and a reminder of the beauty and kindness of the human spirit that unites us all.

IT: And now let’s talk destinations: What were the favorite places you visited last year?

EL: In Bhutan, it’s hard to describe how wonderful it is to be there. It’s unique to the world, and the people there are so genuinely kind that you can’t help but feel welcomed at every turn.

Greece stands out because we spent five weeks working on multiple projects there. We celebrated Naomi’s birthday with a candlelight dinner on the beach in Serifos, a gorgeous little island in the western Cyclades. After that much time living the Mediterranean island lifestyle, it was hard to leave!

NL: This is always one of the most difficult questions to answer! Every place has its wonderful aspects, and I seem to fall in love with just about everywhere we go in some way or another. It always comes back to the people in the end for me, though. Sharing trips to Bhutan, Japan, Italy, Greece and Iceland. We had the incredible pleasure of traveling with some truly wonderful people for several professional projects and also during some photo tours we were leading.

IT: Which destinations are you planning to visit this coming year?

EL: I’m looking forward to visiting northern India to photograph wild tigers and Patagonia in Chile to photograph the stunning landscapes.

NL: Aside from the ones that Elia mentioned, I’m also hoping to make it to Morocco, Cuba and Norway.

Check out more travel interviews!

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Categories
Business Travel

The Other Georgia

Author: soplio
Date of Trip: August 2004

I am exploring mountains, seas, lush greenery and overwhelming hospitality in the land of wine while teaching English as a Peace Corps Volunteer. There is the Black sea an hour away, the mountain resort Bakhmaro with wooden cottages on stilts, and plenty of Wild West antics.

The best places to see are:
Ushguli in Svaneti (the highest village in Europe), Nabeghlavi (village with famous mineral water), Bakhmaro (mountain village with wooden cottages on stilts), and Chokhatauri (where I live and other Gurians who are famous for their singing and humor).

Quick Tips/Suggestions:
Fly to Tbilisi, the capital city in Georgia…take a taxi to the Nika hotel at 38 Mitskevitchi, then explore away.

Best Way to Get Around:
Marshutkas (minivans) are the best form of public transportation anywhere in the country. To make it stop, just say “gamicheret!”

Nika Hotel, Tbilisi, Georgia:
Wonderful Georgian woman “Janora” runs the hotel. Many travelers or Peace Corps Volunteers stay here. Always clean sheets, hot water, satellite TV. She usually only charges $25 and includes a breakfast with fried eggs, yogurt, cereal, coffee or tea, and bread.

Categories
Experiential Travel

The Case for Studying Abroad

There is something serious we need to address with the youth of America. Drink milk, play outside, brush your teeth and, when the time comes, study abroad.

According to a survey from NAFSA: Association for International Educators, only 1 percent of all students enrolled at an institution of higher education study abroad. One percent! The world is the greatest education out there, and 99 percent of our students aren’t taking advantage of it.

Some say you can’t know another person until you’ve walked in their shoes. Walking their streets in their city, and sharing the same living space with their students, is pretty darn close. It really is a different experience to read about the plight of child labor in India, and to meet the children struggling to educate themselves at a rural development center (where I once stayed overnight on an excursion sponsored by Semester at Sea). Turning a page, flipping a channel and trying to look away from what’s right in front of you are three different concepts. Would you compare wandering the halls of the Louvre to reading or watching “The Da Vinci Code”?

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Right after I returned from my semester abroad, my dad decided that we should all go to Greece as a family for summer vacation. I never felt more isolated from my parents than I did when I realized my traveling style had morphed completely from passive to engaged. I bought a pocket guide before I left, read it cover to cover on the plane, and was determined to practice the key words and phrases included in the back (even if they were just parakalo and efcharisto — “please” and “thank you”). I begged to take public transit rather than overpay for taxis and made every effort to skip tourist traps. My parents were both amused and slightly annoyed by my quest to avoid the tourist stereotype at all costs. In the end, I survived with my newfound travel dignity intact by taking several side trips on my own, which I never would have had the courage to do without my independent experiences abroad.

Granted, the world isn’t free. For those needing financial assistance, a number of study abroad grants are available. The general rule is that if you can afford a semester of college, you should be able to afford that semester in another currency. Many schools offer in-house study abroad programs, so to speak, that make the transition from campus to Cadiz fairly seamless.

Other institutions, such as my alma mater, Semester at Sea, offer unique opportunities like studying abroad in multiple countries while completing your coursework at sea. You can even study in the frozen plains of Antarctica (through Antarctic University Expedition and other universities), or the forbidden lands of Cuba (see Academic Programs International) and North Korea (check out the Pyongyang Project).

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Way past your college years and want to see the world through new eyes? Many institutions offer adult programs so you too can engage in an academic adventure. Lifelong Learning is Semester at Sea’s onboard program for adult learners who wish to take courses, mentor and even present seminars on their areas of expertise.

— written by Brittany Chrusciel

Categories
Miscellany

My Trip to England

Author: King Ables
Date of Trip: September 2001

This fall I took an entire month off and traveled around England. The main excuse for this was a friend’s 50th birthday on October 14. The other end of the trip was a tour of England’s Cotswolds sponsored by the Ex-Students Association of the University of Texas and run by Alumni Holidays which ran from September 19 to 27. I just wandered around and visited a couple of other friends the rest of the time.

The Cotswolds is a range of limestone hills, beech wood, steep valleys of pastureland grazed by sheep renowned for quality wool. In Roman times, sheep and rivers were a source of wealth for medieval people producing wool and cloth. The area boasts quaint and colorful towns and villages. The base of our tour was Stratford-upon-Avon. Stratford is a small Elizabethan town on the gently-flowing River Avon. Stratford was the birthplace of William Shakespeare (in 1564). The city consists of an array of 16th and 17th century structures with rows of half-timbered houses, including Shakespeare’s own home on Henley Street. Stratford was a market town and trading center in the Middle Ages.

Tuesday and Wednesday, September 19th and 20th, 2000
With miles I earned on a trip to Singapore last year, I upgraded to business class and has a luxurious flight from Denver to London via Newark. I left Colorado (where it had not rained in months) and landed in New Jersey and London, both of which were getting a pouring rain. It was wonderful to see. I was met at Heathrow by Tim Parry who has a limo service between Stratford-Upon-Avon and London. He gave me a guided tour of the area on the way to Stratford. I hadn’t even gotten to my destination and I had already seen some lovely Cotswold villages.

I wandered around town a bit to get cash and familiarize myself with the area while I waited for the rest of the tour group to arrive. Dinner at the hotel was accompanied by a local actor performing bits of Shakespeare.

Thursday, September 21, 2000
We stayed at the Alveston Manor hotel which is on the other side of the River Avon from the main part of Stratford. The first performance of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was at the Alveston Manor. The bridge we crossed to get to Stratford is the Clopton Bridge, named for Hugh Clopton who lived in Stratford and moved to London and became mayor in 1492. He donated money to Stratford for concrete bridges. Every day we went into Stratford we walked across this bridge. The Holy Trinity Church is along the banks of the River Avon, just down from the Royal Shakespeare Memorial Theater. Shakespeare was a lay preacher at Holy Trinity Church when he returned home from London. No building in Stratford is taller than the Memorial Theater so the Moat House (originally a Hilton) is onlythree stories, probably the shortest Hilton in the world.

Shakespeare was baptized at Holy Trinity on April 26, 1564 (so we assume he was born on the 23rd since they usually baptized three days after birth). He was buried on April 25, 1616, which leads us to believe he died (also) on the 23rd because they generally buried people two days after death.

Shakespeare’s father John was mayor of Stratford and was born in nearby Snitterfield. The Forest of Arden used to be north of Stratford (and was used in As You Like It). It was used up building battleships for war with Spain.

Today we took our excursion to Shakespeare’s birthplace on Henley Street which is managed by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. We also saw Anne Hathaway’s cottage where Shakespeare’s wife grew up. It’s an Elizabethan farmhouse with a low thatched roof, timbered walls, and lattice windows.

Shakespeare’s last home, known as The New Place, is gone now. All that’s left is the foundation and Knott Garden, a sunken garden divided intofour sections by a path, filled with flowers herbs, and box hedges, and contains a Mulberry tree that Shakespeare planted. A later owner of New Place was tired of people wanting to see it and clipping from the mulberry tree so he moved, had the tree cut down, and left orders for the house to be demolished. We saw Hall’s Croft, home of Shakespeare’s daughter Susanna and husband John Hall, a local doctor. It contains 16th and 17th century furnishings and an exhibit of medical equipment from the period.

During our evening lecture, there was a fire in the boiler room at the hotel, so we had to evacuate and finish our lecture outside under a giant Lebanese Cedar tree in the courtyard.

Friday, September 22, 2000
Today’s we saw Charlecote Park where it is rumored that a young Will Shakespeare may have poached a deer. His father made gloves but sometimes material was hard to come by. Since his father was also mayor, it would have created a sticky situation as the penalty for deer poaching was death. This may have been when Will left for London until things cooled off.

We also toured Warwick Castle, England’s finest Medieval castle. I climbed thethree front towers, the mount in the center (built up by man), and the “ghost tower.” We had the moat contents described in rank detail, apparently in that day, it was basically the sewer system. It flowed directly into the River Avon which runs past the castle. Our tour guide was a bowman and he played the part quite convincingly. He gave a demo of his archery skills as well.

Later in the day we got a backstage tour of the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) and the Royal Shakespeare Memorial Theater, composed of a main theater and the Swan Theater (a Globe-styled theater). The current theater was built after the original theater burned. In the evening we saw the RSC production of Henry V, in a World War I motif (but with original dialogue).

Overnight I experienced my very first earthquake (who would have thought I’d have to go to England for this?). It was centered in near Leamington Spa which is in another part of Warwickshire (where Stratford is). I woke up but thought someone was in my room. When I was more awake I decided I must have dreamt something. It wasn’t until I was watching the BBC Breakfast News the next morning that I knew it as an actual earthquake! It registered 4.2, which isn’t that large by our standards, but it was the largest in England in 10 years.

Saturday, September 23, 2000
Today we toured the Cotswolds — the most beautiful part of England. The Anglo-Saxon word “cote” (a sheep fold) and “wold” (a piece of open uncultivated land) build the term Cotswold. Houses and walls are built from honey-colored Cotswold stone, and houses have steeply thatched roofs and dormer windows.

We visited Stow-On-The-Wold (Edward Stow lived on the hill). The Romans arrived here in 47 AD. We visited the Parish Church of St. Edward, the oldest surviving original building in town (built by the Normans about 986). I passed a cheese shop that had Wensleydale on special and a board that said “Real cheese, Grommit!” so I couldn’t resist, I had to try it– and it was great. We missed the Cheese 2000 festival which was the following weekend. We visited the Royalist Hotel, the oldest inn in England built in 947 AD.

We also visited Bourton-On-The-Water, the “Venice of the Cotswolds” (someone hadn’t been to Venice) because of its six bridges that span the River Windrush which divides the town and later empties into the River Avon. The composer Holst was born nearby.

Lower Slaughter has beautiful stone bridges and excellent walks. We had lunch at the Washbourne Court Hotel and walked along the River Eye (which later runs into River Windrush).

In Stanway we visited Stanway Parish where we saw a wedding in progress, and the Stanway Water Garden.

Stanton is not very modern, and is inhabited mostly by retired people and workers from Broadway. The Stanton Parish Church was where John and Charles Wesley, founders of the Methodist Church, preached. We even got to see a Cricket game going on down the street.

Broadway, in Glouscester, is called “Gateway to the Cotswolds.” Most people in our group went shopping, I went to the Horse and Hound pub to sample the local brew.

Chipping Campden is a market town. The name comes from chipping (as in chipping at the price, or bartering), camp (people), and den (organized). The Eddington Park Hotel supposedly has a housekeeper ghost.

After returning to Stratford, I toured a few of the local pubs near the hotel. The Black Swan (aka the Dirty Duck) is often frequented by RSC players after performances. I also stopped in at the Pen and Parchment and Cox’s Yard, both along the banks of the River Avon.

Sunday, September 24, 2000
Today we had some time to ourselves, so I got up early and went for a run along the River Avon past the Royal Shakespeare Memorial Theater and Holy Trinity Church. I stopped to watch a boat go through one of the locks along the river. The Avon Environmental District has a great sign that says “Good planets are hard to find” encouraging you to pick up your trash after enjoying the area. In the afternoon, we took a trip to Coventry. Among other things, it’s the home of Lady Godiva. It was an agricultural settlement in 1086 and was the third largest city outside of London by 1377. Its prosperity came from woolen trade.

The wife of Earl Leofric was Lady Godiva. She sympathized with citizens and protested her husband’s high taxation. She made a deal with her husband that if he would lower the taxes, she would ride naked on horseback through the city. Out of respect, the townspeople planned to stay inside their houses with the windows shut while she made this ride. Allegedly a young man named Thomas couldn’t stand it and had to look (hence the phrase “peeping Tom”).

Now it’s a car center — Rover Group (formerly BMW) and Austin founded by Herbert Austin. In WWII, they made arms and engines so they were a target. On November 14, 1940, Coventry was bombed by the Luftwaffe. A 7:10pm air raid siren signaled the start of an 11-hour bombing where the Coventry Cathedral was virtually destroyed. The Cathedral roof was lead, which when wet, as it was because the fire brigade was trying to put out fires all over town, it looked like a metal factory roof. Eventually the water ran out, so when it was hit, the fire could not be put out. The bell tower was left standing and working.

The old Coventry Cathedral was the only British cathedral to be destroyed by the Luftwaffe. The new cathedral, St. Michael’s, was completed in 1962. It’s a modern design by Sir Basil Spence and is a stark contrast to the ruins of the 14th century cathedral next to it. The “official” location has never been moved to the new one, so the bombed out shell is still the recognized cathedral.

We also saw the St. Mary’s Guildhall, built between 1340 and 1460 and damaged during the bombing but restored. Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in the tower for two months (of her 19 years), near the council chambers and treasury rooms.

Back in Stratford that evening, we had dinner with some local folks, including a couple of people who travel around and teach school children about Shakespeare. They have an interesting Web site. One of the women in the group is from New Jersey but moved to Stratford to do graduate work and just stayed. Hearing her take on life in the UK was pretty interesting (and talking with her wasn’t difficult!). It’s from her I learned the word “kerfuffled” (flabbergasted, confused).

Monday, September 25, 2000
Today we visited the town of Woodstock and Blenheim Palace. Blenheim Palace was a gift of a grateful nation to John Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough, for victory in battle. He had been poor so he entered the army and was superb at the strategies of war. He married Sarah Duchess of Marlborough and his wealth grew with battle wins. During the Spanish Wars of Succession he won the Battle of Blyn Tyme in France. The Queen gave him cash to build a palace which he named after the site of the battle victory (in English, Blenheim).

Blenheim Palace is the birthplace of Winston Churchill (John Churchill’s grandson). We saw the room where he was born as well as many of his paintings and letters. In one letter to his dad he says “I’ll take your advice and not smoke but one or two cigars a day.” At least Dad will be glad to know I’m not the only son who hasn’t always taken his father’s advice! Blenheim Palace is the site of Winston Churchill’s famous speech after his appointment to the Admiralty in 1911. We had lunch at Bear Hotel, a 13th century coaching inn in Woodstock.

Then it was off to Oxford. The word “Oxford” comes from its proximity to the ford in the River Thames where the ox could graze. The River Thames goes by its Roman name in Oxford and is know as the River Isis.

Oxford was an early Saxon trading settlement. Henry VIII founded the school in 1547 but died before it opened in 1562. Queen Elizabeth I presided over its opening.

The individual college we visited was Christ Church. Einstein attended Christ Church and Lewis Carroll taught there. We visited the Bodeian Library, the Meadows building (student rooms), and the Master’s garden. Originally, Christ Church was known as Cardinal College but it was renamed by Henry VIII. We took High Tea in a dining room in Christ Church.

Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) came to study Maths in 1852 and stayed to teach until his death in 1898. Many Alice in Wonderland inspirations came to Carroll from Christ Church:

  • A tree in garden is probably the Jabberwocky.
  • The dean’s daughter was named Alice (his other kids were Harry, Lorena, and Edith– I think) – Dodgson got to know the kids telling them stories.
  • Alice looked through door in garden wall into a part of the garden she wasn’t allowed in (Wonderland).
  • The dean was always late, especially to dinner where he came up a spiral staircase at the front of the dining room (rabbit hole).
  • Alice’s cat used to climb up a chestnut tree in the garden and not come down.
  • The Queen of Hearts (“off with his head”) was Henry VIII – his portrait hangs at the head of the dining room.
  • Heads with long necks on the fireplace rack in the dining hall is probably where Alice’s long neck came from when she enters Wonderland.
  • The Dodo came from Dodgson’s stutter when he would introduce himself (Do-Do-Dodgson).

In the evening, I went to see The Comedy Of Errors put on by the Royal Shakespeare Company. During intermission (known there as “the interval”), I stood on a balcony just out of reach of a light rain, sipping a glass of wine and chatting with a a charming English lass. If her boyfriend hadn’t eventually come around, I’d probably still be there! I walked back to the hotel after the performance in a light rain along the River Avon.

Tuesday, September 26, 2000
Today I saw a performance of my favorite Shakespeare play, Romeo and Juliet by the RSC. They also had a special gathering after the performance where the actors talked to audience members and answered questions, it was very interesting to learn how they decide on the set and the little “extras” they’ve added to the play.

Wednesday, September 27, 2000
The tour of Stratford-Upon-Avon was coming to an end, but on our way to London (where many people were departing but I was moving on to another phase of my trip), we stopped off and toured Windsor Castle. A few of us were touring London and wandered around the area around our hotel (the Grosvenor House– very nice!) and had dinner at the Aubrey pub in London. Sean Connery was rumored to have been in the hotel bar 30 minutes before I went down to have a beer, but of course I missed him.

Thursday, September 28, 2000
Today we toured Buckingham Palace, to complete our list of all the Royal family residences! Wandering around London a bit I ran across “The Texas Embassy” (a restaurant). I also had a chance to sit in Berkeley Square and watch the world go by for a while. That evening, a few of us saw Mousetrap at the St. Martin’s Theater. This is the longest running show in London, it’s been going for 48 years.

Friday, September 29, 2000
Today I toured the Cabinet War rooms where Churchill ran WWII. It was a fascinating look into what really happened. Also saw the changing of the guard at St. James Palace.

Saturday, September 30, 2000
Got up early and went for a run through Hyde Park & Kennsington Gardens. At one point I looked up and found I was right outside the Royal Albert Hall! Later that day I caught a train to Basingstoke to meet up with my friend Chris (the birthday boy) and his wife Gill. As I got to Basingstoke early, I spent a couple of hours in the Queen’s Arms pub hanging with the locals, watching rugby on TV, and having lunch and a couple of beers.

Wednesday, October 4, 2000
I took a few days off and did absolutely nothing but laundry and visiting with Chris and Gill. It was great to have time to just relax after having been going and going and going for 10 days. This evening we drove down to South Hampton to see the movie Space Cowboys. Movies in the UK are interesting, they have reserved seating! And I bought popcorn, but not reading the labels closely, I wound up getting sugared popcorn, what a concept.

Friday, October 6, 2000
Today I jumped on a train to go up to Cambridge to visit some other friends. Rick used to work at Schlumberger in Austin when I was doing some contracting there and we’ve stayed in touch. I went up to visit him and his family. He and his wife Joan picked me up at the train station and Joan showed me the village of Impington, where they live. That night Rick took me to the Red Lion pub and we hung out with some of his friends. Cambridge is supposedly where Sir Isaac Newton had his inspiration about gravity from an apple, there are apple trees everywhere.

Saturday, October 7, 2000
Rick and I went to the American Cemetery in Cambridge, 30 acres of land donated by the University of Cambridge. It’s the only American Cemetery in the British Isles and is mostly fallen soldiers from WWII. As with most such cemeteries, it was very moving.

Sunday, October 8, 2000
Returned to Basingstoke by train through London.

Tuesday, October 10, 2000
Saw Blood Brothers in London.

Wednesday, October 11, 2000
Today we went from Chris’ house to Stonehenge, about 25 miles! He said he drives by it all the time, but it’s just another place on the highway. He had never even been since he lived where he lives! Another ring of stones in the area is the Avebury ring. This one is much larger but not as stark. There’s even a pub (where we had lunch) in the middle of the circle. We spent the afternoon shopping in the town of Marlbourgh.

Thursday, October 12, 2000
Today was Chris’ day. We went to one of his favorite places, the Hawk Conservancy. We learned how to hold and fly Harris Hawks, saw Perigrine Falcons, and even a Bald Eagle! This picture is Chris holding a barn owl, one of his favorites.

Friday, October 13, 2000
Today Kathy and Bill and I went to London by train to tour around. We wound up spending pretty much the whole day at the Tower of London. The last time I was here we only went by, we didn’t get to go in. We took the tour, and wandered around and saw the whole place.

Saturday, October 14, 2000
The reason for the trip is Chris’ 50th birthday party and today is the day. We spent the day setting up and the evening enjoying the party at Woolding’s Vineyard & Winery in Whitchurch, the town Chris and Gill live near. It was fun to see some people that we saw at his 40th party!

Sunday, October 15, 2000
Today was recovery and a little bit of clean up from yesterday.

Monday, October 16, 2000
Back to London to tour around, we first took a tour of the rebuilt Globe Theater. This completed my total emersion in all things Shakespeare! As with my trip 10 years ago, Bill and I climbed the stairs to the top of St Paul’s Cathedral (only one day off from when I did it 10 years ago!). Then we took a riverboat ride up the Thames and caught the tube out to Ruislip to visit another friend who is lucky enough to live in the London area!

Tuesday, October 17, 2000
My final full day of my UK trip we all drove out to Bath (past Stonehenge!). We saw the Bath Abbey and wandered around the town. The Romans really knew what was important, they built an entire city around what is basically a big hot tub!

Wednesday, October 18, 2000
Exhausted and actually missing home, today Chris and Bill got up early to drive me back to Heathrow where I caught the plane home. It was raining again as I went through New Jersey, but by this time I was used to seeing water coming down from the sky. By the time I got home, I was actually glad to be back. I guess a month, even in paradise, is enough for one trip!