India 2018 (December 2018)||1909 Visits|
Egypt (January 2017)|
|Visiting Egypt poses a vexing conundrum for many American travelers. Should I go? Is it safe? Is it feasible to travel without being part of a group? We decided we should go, that it is as safe as anywhere else these days, and definitely YES you can travel easily and assuredly without being part of a group.|
In late December/early January, the weather in Cairo could not have been better. Sunny, warm days; cool, clear nights. Perfect weather for exploring this fascinating city. Initially, we had only allotted three nights in Cairo, but quickly added another. There is so much to see and do. The Egyptian Museum (go at night and avoid the tour groups), Coptic Cairo, Islamic Cairo, and the Pyramids are just some of the highlights. But just walking around the Zemalak area was a daily and nightly pleasure.
Leaving Cairo for Aswan, we took an inexpensive flight to Aswan. Spent a couple of days seeing the sights before heading off for Abu Simbel. The tacky sound-and-light show was our reason for lingering overnight; nevertheless, the town proved a peaceful respite from the bustling cities.
Flying back to Aswan, we spent three nights on a dahabiya, floating down the Nile, before docking at Luxor. Four nights in Luxor is time well spent. Splurge for the balloon ride over the Valley of Kings at dawn, opt for staying on the West Bank, and decide to pass up the sound-and-light show at Karnak. After Luxor, we just had time for two more nights in Cairo, and then back home to winter.
Egypt is easy to explore without a tour group. Internal flights are an inexpensive and fast way to cover long distances in a flash. Knowledgeable local guides are easily hired for a day or two of sightseeing. But get out and walk. Enjoy the towns and sights without hundreds of tourists blocking your view. It is the perfect time for visitors to return to Egypt: low prices, few tourists and the pleasure of having these world-renowned sites practically to yourself.
Toronto/Niagra Falls (November 2016)|
|Picture-perfect weather complemented our extended weekend trip to Toronto in early November.|
Spent two full days were walking, shopping and eating our way through many of Toronto's diverse neighborhoods. Yes, we took the obligatory ride up to the top of CN Tower. But found that what was missing from the view atop the CN Tower - was a view that included the CN Tower! We had the most fun wandering through the Ripley Aquarium during the relative quiet of an early Sunday evening. We had the sharks all to ourselves.
And for our final day, we took a day trip - by train - to Niagara Falls. As luck would have it, made-to-order blue skies and abundant sunshine graced our only day at the Falls. Amazing weather for early November. And the proof is in the photos.
Norway (February 2016)|
|Need a winter getaway, but not to get away from winter? Try Norway.|
Oslo makes an obvious base for the start and end of any trip. Three nights/three days is barely enough time to get acquainted with Norway's charming capital. But we tried. We crammed six museum visits into one day. Yes, six. But we were still not too exhausted by day's end to be overwhelmed by the array of Munch paintings in the National Gallery.
Don't miss the chance to take advantage of Norway-in-a-Nutshell: an ingeniously choreographed way to get from Oslo to Bergen by combining a ride on a regular fast train with a narrow-gauge rail, a boat trip through a fjord (yes, even in winter - or, as we believed, especially in winter), a bus and finally another regular fast train which ultimately deposits you in the heart of Bergen. It was a highlight on a trip filled with highlights.
Bergen is a wonder. Blessed with an unusual spell of sunshine and springlike weather, we ventured to Edward Greig's home in Troldhaugen, just outside of Bergen. Easily reached by public transport, then a half-hour stroll. And in February, you will have the house practically to yourself.
Flying from Bergen to Tromso is highly recommended if you are short on time - which we were. Tromso, located above the Artic Circle, was snow-covered but not numbingly cold. Shivers, though, were reserved for our nightly quests to view the northern lights. Cliches abound when describing the lights - awe-inspiring, magical, otherworldly. All apply. One more item to check off our bucket list.
Namibia (June 2015)|
|Namibia is Africa's least populated country with some of Africa's most magnificent scenery - both landscape and wildlife. We began in the capital Windhoek, picked up a rental SUV and then headed north to Etosha National Park. Etosha is a self-drive safari park. Spanning nearly 8,000 square miles, Etosha is home to an astonishing array of wildlife - elephants, lions, giraffes, rhinos, etc. And all are within easy viewing distance either from your car or by waiting patiently at the many watering holes scattered throughout the park.|
From Etosha we pressed further north to Opuwo. Opuwo is Himba country. The Himba are a semi-nomadic tribe now numbering less than 50,000. They are most famous for their women who coat their skin and hair in a orange-hued mixture of ochre, butter and herbs. The mixture acts as a natural insect repellent as well as a sunblock. The women style their hair with this mud-like concoction into distinctive waves and startling peaks. As fashion dictates, no two women have the same hairstyle.
Lingering only a day in Opuwo (a town with limited charms), we drove further south - making at pit stop for the night in the town of Kamanjab. We had enough time to check out the tamed and wild cheetahs at the Otjitotongwe Cheetah Reserve. Petting a cheetah was one of the many highlights of the trip.
Next day, off we went to the coast - landing in Swakopmund for a couple of nights. Swapkopmund a German town transplanted onto the Namibian coast. Immaculate and tidy, this seasonal holiday resort (though not in June) is a great place to catch a boat ride to see dolphins and other sea life.
Still heading south, we drove through some of the most desolate regions along the Namibian coast. Few cars, straight gravel roads and plenty of desert scenery to distract. Our destination - Sossusvlei, the country's number one tourist attraction. Breathtaking orange sand dunes loom on both sides of the park's roadway. The largest dune - Dune 45 - is about 500 feet tall. But the star attraction is Dead Vlei - an eerie, white sand (former) lake dotted with withered, mummified trees.
After a few days in the desert we returned to Windhoek - clocking a couple thousand miles on our dusty SUV in just 12 days. Not hard to do in a country that has so many fantastic natural splendors spread out at such a great distance.
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (June 2015)|
|How do visit two of the three countries of the world that begin with the letter 'Z' in one day? Go to Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls, the world's largest waterfall, straddles two countries - Zimbabwe and Zambia. We stayed on the Zimbabwe side (in the town of Victoria Falls) and visited the Zambian side. Which side has the better views? A toss up. Each side is different; each merits a visit.|
Victoria Falls is a tourist friendly town without feeling too touristy. It is safe, walkable and friendly. Beware: Elephants still roam the streets; baboons can be seen throughout the town at any time of day.
A trip to southern Africa just would not feel complete without a sojourn to Victoria Falls - the Seventh Wonder of the Natural World as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Don't miss it if you are in this part of the world or you will regret it for the rest of your life.
Cape Town, South Africa (July 2015)|
|We visited at the beginning of July - winter in the South Africa. The weather could be challenging. But we were fortunate: four days of uninterrupted sunshine. Simply lovely.|
We stayed in De Waterkant area of town. Highly recommended. But outside of this area there are definite security issues.
What to do: head to Table Mountain near sunset; wander around Bo-Kaap; tour the peninsula down to the Cape of Good Hope. If you are short on time, skip Robben Island. It will eat up your day and the tour will make you feel as if you were rounded up in a cattle car.
Vietnam (December 2014)|
|Even though more than 40 years had passed since the Vietnam War had ended, Vietnam remained stubbornly rooted in our 1960s/1970s memories as a war-ravaged nation. Realistically, we knew it had changed. But we were unprepared for the Vietnam of 2014.|
We began in Hanoi. The former capital of North Vietnam still has one foot anchored in the past but the other - propelled by its younger generation - is hurtling into the future. We spent a day touring the highlights (with a free student guide), caught a water puppet show and hung out at rooftop café. But the best way to get to know this city is to walk it. And we did. The city has a buzz - and it's not just from the coffee. It is abuzz with change. New shops and restaurants are opening daily. Young people, anxious to practice their English, guilelessly approach willing tourists. A big city with a small city feel.
After an overnight cruise on nearby Halong Bay, we moved on (by overnight train) to Sapa, in the northwest highlands. For three days we never saw the sun. Low clouds, fathomless fog and persistent drizzle were our constant companions. Nevertheless, we fell in love with this town and its indigenous people.
Rocking back to Hanoi on another overnight train, we flew down to Da Nang - only to use it as a stepping stone to reach Hoi An and Hue. Rain and clouds continued to hound us. Nevertheless, we were seduced by Hoi An. Yes, it is a touristy town (by Vietnamese standards) but with good reason. Classic architecture, terrific food and plus we were able to snag a couple of nights at the small, atmospheric Vinh Hung Heritage Hotel. From Hoi An we traveled by bus for a two-night stay in Hue. Great sights surround this dodgy town. And the rains were the steadiest here.
From Da Nang we flew to Can Tho in the Mekong River delta. A day-long delta tour and couple of nights in this town were all we could afford before heading (by bus) to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).
Saigon of 2014 definitely did not match our mental images of Saigon in the 1960s. Not at all. Saigon is on its way to be the next Hong Kong or Singapore - well on its way. Colonial-style buildings are rapidly being displaced by high-rises. Gucci and Louis Vuitton have already settled in. A proposed subway system is gnawing apart the streets. Change is everywhere.
This trip began in the more provincial north and ended with a wallop in the 21st century south. Our journey was a wonderful introduction to the varieties of peoples and places that this ribbon of a country contains. Too much to cover in one trip. More time, more time, more time - this is the traveler's lament.
Hong Kong (December 2014)|
|"Occupy Central" began in Hong Kong on September 28, 2014. Thousands of protesters took to the streets - blocking roads in several key locations throughout the city. The non-violent protestors sought a direct electoral voice in the elections for the Hong Kong Chief Executive and the Legislative Council elections. But Bejing wanted the process to remain the same.|
When we were planning our trip to Vietnam, we deliberately scheduled an overnight in Hong Kong - specifically to be a witness to history.
We arrived late on December 5 with just enough evening hours left to experience the Hong Kong night market. The next day - after a jet-lagged 12-hour snooze - we headed off to the Admiralty area to view one of the last encampments of the Occupy movement.
The occupiers' tents spread out across a wide swath of a multi-lane highway in the heart of Hong Kong's financial district. Some protesters were working on transforming a grassy highway medium into an urban farm. One young man had traveled from his home in England back to his birthplace to participate in this movement. "Post It" notes - words of encouragement from visitors from around the world - tiled a one-story, exterior stairwell wall. Curtains of small yellow paper umbrellas decorated and divided sections of the protest area. The Occupy site moved us in unexpected ways. It was the highlight of our brief stay.
Within a week - while we were still traveling in Vietnam - we read that the last of the Occupy sites had been dismantled. For the moment, the protest was over. Our visit to the site lasted only a few hours one December morning but the memory of it will last our lifetimes.
Cape Verde (June 2014)|
|Cape Verde was named one of 2014's World's Ten Best Ethical Destinations by the Ethical Traveler organization. The winning countries were judged on their records on environmental protection, social welfare and human rights. Cape Verde has been included on the list for two years in a row. |
This island nation is adrift in the Atlantic Ocean approximately 300 miles off the west coast of Africa. Its name was derived from its location due west of Cap Vert (the name of the Dakar peninsula of Senegal), not for its greenery. The Cape Verde archipelago includes ten major islands, and an assortment of tiny uninhabited islets. Some are mountainous; others are flat. Some verdant and tree covered; others stark and desert-like.
Though discovered by the Portuguese centuries ago, some of its islands are now being rediscovered by European package tourists. But independent travelers should not be dismayed. The four islands we sampled - Fogo, Sao Vicente, Santo Antau and Santiago - have yet to be heavily commercialized. These are the islands that lure independent travelers; they justify Cape Verde's place on the Ethical Traveler's top 10 list. These are the islands that await to be "discovered" - even today.
Uzbekistan 2013 (October 2013)|
|Uzbekistan - situated in the heart of Central Asia - is a land that has been conquered and reconquered again and again. Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane (Timur) are among its most notable warrior/rulers. There have been others. Countless others.|
Once we landed in country's shiny, modern capital - Tashkent -and traded in our dollars for a suitcase full of soms, we were ready to tackle Uzbekistan's Silk Road. First stop, Samarkand - conquerer/hero Tamerlane's home base. Although the Registan and Shah-I Zinda are its star attractions, the city's sprawling central market is a close second.
From Samarkand we detoured into the Nurata mountains for a one-night homestay, then spent another night nestled down in a yurt camp near Lake Aydarkul before we final settled in for a few nights in Bukhara. At Bukhara's heart is one of the Silk Road's fabled ancient walled cities. Mosques, mausoleums and minarets dominate the skyline. Fabled rugs, clothing and weavings fill its shops.
From Bukhara we traveled further north to Khiva - a walled city that has been turned into a living museum. Our days were spent exploring the crumbling desert forts in the Karakalpakstan region (spreading out from Khiva's northeast) and venturing further northwest to the remote city of Nukus and the Igor Savitsky Museum. During the Khiva's moonlit nights, we wandered its ancient streets or took in outdoor screenings of classis Uzbek flims.
When we returned to Tashkent and prepared to leave, we realized that we came to Uzbekistan for its legendary Silk Road cities but we what we will remember most is the warmth and hospitality its people.
Northern Chile 2012 (August 2012)|
|Why spend two weeks in Chile's Atacama Desert - known as having the driest climate on Earth? Maybe to behold otherworldly scenery in one of the most remote locations on the continent; or perhaps to gaze up into the clearest night skies on the planet; or simply to revel in one perfectly warm, perpetually sunny day after another. |
We began our tour of the north in the coastal town of La Serena, took a side trip into the beautiful Elqui Valley, flew up to San Pedro de Atacama and then bused back to the coast and the town of Arica. A few days were lost wandering up to Parque Lauca before we spent our final nights in Santiago, Chile's capital city.
A night at one of the observatories in the Elqui Valley is a requirement and the San Pedro reqion is a deserved tourist magnet. But desolate Parque Lauca is a treasure worth discovering - the ultimate destination for any explorer of Chile's austere northern region.
Get all the details of this trip on our blog: Northern Chile Blog
Chiapas, Mexico 2012 (April 2012)|
|In 1995, we spent only three nights in San Cristóbal de Las Casas but it has lingered in our travel memory for years. This colonial mountain town cast its spell on us. We vowed to return.|
Seventeen years later and we are back. San Cristóbal has changed - more restaurants, shops and walking streets – but its appeal remains.
We revisited San Juan Chamula and Zinacantán – just two of the many traditional Mayan villages that surround San Cristóbal. But now we had more time to explore Chiapas' outlying regions. Once again, we traveled - via the "road to hell” (See our blog - link below)- to Palenque; journeyed along the Guatemalan border to behold the Mayan ruins at Yaxchilán and Bonampak; stopped off at Agua Azul and Misol-Há on our way back to San Cristóbal (again on the "road to hell, part 2”); and finally headed south to spend a few nights in the colonial town of Comitán, and visit the nearby Lagunas de Montebello and El Chiflón.
Even after twelve days, we wanted more. The State of Chiapas is still off the radar of many international travelers. Mexican tourists, though, are descending upon this region in record numbers: to soak up its culture, history and natural beauty.
Again, we vow to return. We just hope it doesn’t take another seventeen years for it to happen.
(For more detailed information on this trip - including hotel and restaurant recommendations, transportation information and the nitty-gritty of the costs of travel - check out our blog at: Chiapas Blog)