Viking Cruises, Photo of the Day #6

We left Bratislava and sailed over night to Vienna with Viking River Cruises. Not knowing how much of a full day we had in front of us we hopped the tour bus early dockside and began our tour of the wonderful tour of the city. We drove by many an architectural wonder and it was difficult at best to take photos through the bus windows. It seemed I was always on the wrong side. Our first stop was the Hofburg Palace, the former imperial palace, in the center of the city. Built in the 13th century it now is the official residence and workplace of the President of Austria.

 

Hofburg Palace Trim in Vienna

Hofburg Palace Trim in Vienna

 

After we entered the main gates we came upon a central portion of the palace adorned with magnificent statues and artwork. I took the liberty of showing a broader perspective in the top photo and a close up of a particular area of the roof. It was a very dramatic statement and I took hundreds of photos of just the various trim and  artwork adorning the palace walls. This one stood out with it’s ornate characters and the gold seal. The palace housed some of the most powerful people in Austrian history, including monarchs of the Habsburg dynasty and rulers of the Astro-Hunagarian Empire.

 

 

Close Up of Hofburg Palace Trim in Vienna

Close Up of Hofburg Palace Trim in Vienna

 

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking Cruises, Photo of the Day #5

On our cruise with Viking River Cruises in December we extended our 8 day trip on the Danube and added the three day extension to Prague. Everyone raved and raved about this fabulous city and I will tell you they were correct. I now have another “favorite city” in the world. One of the attractions is the Prague Castle, which is a huge complex. As you enter there are Castle Guards on both sides of the main entrance. The Guard is composed of a brigade of the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic who serve the President of the Czech Republic, as a security force and provide honor guards and take part in ceremonial functions. The guards are changed every hour from 7:00 AM daily. If you plan it you can see the “Changing the Guard” ceremony daily. The current Guard Commander is Radim Studeny.

 

 

Prague Castle Guard #1

Prague Castle Guard #1

 

Prague Castle is a huge complex and is the largest ancient castle in the world. It occupies almost 70,000 square meters. It is about 570 meters long and 130 meters wide. It dates from the 9th century and is the official residence of the President of the Czech Republic, who currently is Milos Zeman. The castle was opened in 870 AD and has a blend of Renaissance architecture, Baroque, Mannerist style, Mannerism, Gothic architecture combined in the Castle complex. A fun fact, Prague Castle is the location in the second level of “Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb” video game.

 

 

Prague Castle Guard #2

Prague Castle Guard #2

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking Cruises, Photo of the Day #4

While on our first morning tour with Viking River Cruises in Budapest, we stumbled upon this statue of one of Hungary’s military heroes. They have many, as they have been in a great deal of battles over the centuries and have lost a good amount of soldiers. This statue is of the Count Hadik Andras de Futak, a field marshall of the Habsburg army. In addition, as a result of his heroics during battle he served as the Governor of Galicia and Lodomeria from January 1774 until June of 1776. He was a brilliant tactician and was known for his “Small War Tactics”, relying on the excellent training of his light cavalry hussars. His most famous action was swinging around the Prussians and taking their capital Berlin during the Seven Years War (1756-1763). The “Slovak National Academy of Defense” bears his name currently.

 

Count Hadik Andras de Futak Nobleman

Count Hadik Andras de Futak Nobleman

 

As we approached the statue my wife told me the grass you can see on either side was fake as it was so green in the middle of winter. I told her that was a good assessment, as there was no way it was real with the continual freezing weather. Earlier in the morning I thought we saw Lily Tomlin in a coffee shop and I was mistaken. It was just someone who took after her. In this case we were just as wrong. It was real grass. I can only guess they have a crew that covers the grass every cold spell and removes the cover as the temperatures rise. We were just a little taken back to say the least! The grass was as natural as the flowers surrounding the statue!

 

 

Count Hadik Andras de Futak Nobleman

Count Hadik Andras de Futak Nobleman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking Cruises, Photo of the Day #3

Bratislava is the Capitol of the young country of Slovakia formed in 1993 after 41 years of Russian rule. Prior to this it was part of Communist Czechoslovakia from 1948 until 1989 when the country split into two separate governing bodies and countries. Slovakia became a member of the European Union in March of 2004 and in January of 2009 adopted the Euro as its currency. It was our second stop on our Danube Waltz Cruise with Viking River Cruises.

 

Memorial for the Red Army Liberators. There Were 6,845 Slavin Men Who Died Fighting the Nazis.

Memorial for the Red Army Liberators. There Were 6,845 Soviet Men Who Died Fighting the Nazis.

 

The fortitude and resolve this country has displayed over the years is amazing and thousands and thousands of people have been displaced throughout the ages by the various regimes. During World War II between 75,000 and 105,000 Slovakian Jews were murdered. Thankfully the German rule was brief and the Soviet and Romanian armies conquered the Nazis. This led to the deportation of 80,000 Hungarians and 32,000 Germans. This country is very challenged economically, but has started making headway, by producing Czech automobiles in an agreement with the Czech Republic, the other portion of the original Czechoslovakia. They have a great outlook and I predict they will rise above their current situation.

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Viking Cruises, Photo of the Day #2

One of the primary reasons we chose the Danube Waltz River Cruise from Viking, was the plethora of Christmas Markets, which is a “street market associated with the celebration of Christmas during the four weeks of advent. The history of the markets goes back to the Late Middle Ages in the German-speaking part of Europe. The Vienna “December Market” was a kind of forerunner of the Christmas Market and dates back to 1294.”** We couldn’t get enough and hit every market we could!

 

Some cities had several markets and the majority of the markets were a collection of booths with massive quantities of regional food specialties, including Bratwurst, Chimney cakes, a rolled light dough cooked over open fire with assorted toppings, cookies (Macarons were my favorite) and candy. Beverages flowed, particularly(“Gluhwein-a hot mulled wine”) coffee, tea and beer. Additionally assorted crafts, soaps, ceramics, ornaments and decorations for one’s Christmas tree were available, jewelry, pomanders and potpourri. One could spend an entire day shopping and deciding what trinket or quality creation they would take home. We told ourselves we would display self control before we left, but wound up having to purchase an additional suitcase for all the items purchased.

 

 

This photo is of the beautiful St. Stephens Basilica in Budapest and was taken the first night we were there. It gives you a taste of how crowded the markets were and notice the coats and mufflers worn by all. If the wind was blowing directly after sunset, it was very and felt like at times the wind was slicing through your coat. Enjoy!

 

 

 

St. Stephen's Basilica

St. Stephen’s Basilica

 

 

** Description from Christmas market -Wikipedia

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Liberty Hall, Tyler Texas, Part Two

On December 3, 2015 I wrote my first blog post on Liberty Hall in Tyler Texas, an intimate music hall in East Texas, that is now a live music gem after the city refurbished The Liberty Theater. It has been renovated in an art-deco style for a considerable sum of money and is now a hub of downtown Tyler, which resonates with music and the arts. It is also the home of the East Texas Symphony Orchestra, who performs its “Noon Notes” events and smaller chamber performances at the venue.

 

Liberty Hall Exterior

Liberty Hall Exterior

 

After visiting and writing about several Texas Towns, I have adopted several. One of my favorites is Tyler, the “Rose Capitol of the United States”! The “Vision” of this fine city is “To be the standard for performance excellence in local government”. The “Vision” of Liberty Hall is “To support the City of Tyler’s efforts to revitalize downtown by creating an arts and entertainment culture, thereby attracting residents and visitors to the downtown district. This post shares a few of my favorite Texas musicians and I wish I had the time in my schedule to see all three upcoming artists.

 

Liberty Hall Interior

Liberty Hall Interior

 

I apologize for the brief window of the first act, but I guess its better than overlooking the upcoming acts. First up, this Friday night March 4, 2016 is Austin Texas based musician and former leader of the “Ugly Americans” Bob Schneider, raised in El Paso Texas and Munich Germany. After a two year stint with “The Scabs” Bob went solo in 1999. His career has genuinely blossomed ever since. This is Bob’s fourth time to perform at Liberty Hall. If you reside in the Dallas Ft. Worth area or east Texas, the brief drive will definitely be worth it to hear this virtuoso play.

 

Austin's Own Bob Schneider

Austin’s Own Bob Schneider

 

Schneider has an eclectic and diverse musical style and writes unconventional off-the-wall songs, with diversified genres of funk, country, rock, and folk compositions, lyrics and melodies. After recording or participating on over thirty albums, his latest release, The King Kong Suite, was released in three 5-track EPs over the course of 2015: King Kong Volume 1 in February, King Kong Volume 2 in June, and King Kong Volume 3 in October. Bob continues to display a stunning and talented array of music. His sensitive lyrics about estrangement, drug addiction, and lost love has enabled Bob to gain a international fan base and he continues to blossom in the industry. Bob Schneider is not only a gifted singer-songwriter, he is also an accomplished visual artist–his sculptures, paintings, prints and, most recently, collages rivaling the creative genius of his musical compositions.  We are quite proud Bob calls Austin home!

 

Bob Schneider, "The King Kong Suite" volumes 1-3 in 2015

Bob Schneider, “The King Kong Suite” volumes 1-3 in 2015

 

My next performer Junior Brown, is one I share a personal connection with and I have followed the man for over forty years. I guess that makes us both a little bit “on in our years”. It was in the 70’s at The Silver Dollar in Austin and I had heard his music on FM KBLJ and loved it. I was also starting to try and learn how to two step, even though I was more of a classic rock n roll guy. His music blew me away and I have been a fan ever since! Junior had stint with Asleep at the Wheel as a steel guitar player and other major recording artists like Hank Thompson, George Jones, The Beach Boys and Stone Temple Pilots, before branching out on his own. He and wife, Tanya Rae the rhythm guitar player, have settled in Austin. He honed his craft at the fabulous Continental Club on South Congress in Austin.

 

Jr. Brown and his Guit-Steel

Jr. Brown and his Guit-Steel

 

Junior has played both an electric and pedal steel guitar throughout his career and combined with his unique voice and unique song writing ability has led him to a Country Music Association Award (CMA) and three Grammy nominations. In 1985 Junior invented a double necked guitar that is now called a “Guit-Steel” guitar. A fascinating invention for the music industry. Basically a compound of an electric guitar and a lap steel guitar. Junior plays mostly honky tonk and western swing with a little blues and TexMex usually at the finish, as well as surf rock. Junior with his one of a kind music is playing at Liberty Hall on April 9, 2016. The following two quotes represent the broad spectrum that Junior holds and demonstrates in his music.

 

“You don’t find stylists today like you did in the Ernest Tubb era. That’s what sets Junior aside from a lot of other artists. He’s got his own style. And his rapport with his fans, he draws a vast audience, from young college kids up to the older, traditional country music fans.”
–David McCormick, owner, Ernest Tubb Record Shop, Nashville

 

“Junior told me once that he was very impressed by Jimi Hendrix, by the way he was very wild, and yet he was very controlled. He knew where everything was going in a solo, and he (Junior), I think tries for the same effect, and I think he hits it virtually every time.”
–Mitch Mitchell, drummer, The Jimi Hendrix Experience

 

Jr. Brown "An American Original"

Jr. Brown “An American Original”

 

My final performer is John Fullbright who will perform at the Liberty Hall on May 13, 2016. In his brief career, his debut album “From the Ground Up” was released just two years ago and this young man from Oklahoma has gathered substantial acclaim. NPR hailed him as one of the 10 Artists You Should Have Known in 2012, saying “it’s not every day a new artist…earns comparisons to great songwriters like Townes Van Zandt and Randy Newman, but Fullbright’s music makes sense in such lofty company.”

 

John Fullbright "From the Ground Up"

John Fullbright “From the Ground Up”

 

The Wall Street Journal crowned him as giving one of the year ’s 10 best live performances. If there was any doubt that his debut announced the arrival of a songwriting force to be reckoned with, it was put to rest when ‘From The Ground Up’ was nominated for Best Americana Album at the GRAMMY Awards, which placed Fullbright alongside some of the genre’s most iconic figures, including Bonnie Raitt.

 

John Fullbright "ASCAP Foundation’ s Harold Adamson Lyric Award"

John Fullbright “ASCAP Foundation’ s Harold Adamson Lyric Award”

 

“What’s so bad about happy?” John Fullbright sings on the opening track of his new album, ‘Songs.’ It’s a play on the writer’s curse, the notion that new material can only come through heartbreak or depression, that great art is only born from suffering.

 

“A normal person, if they find themselves in a position of turmoil or grief, they’ll say, ‘I need to get out of this as fast as I can,’” says Fullbright. “A writer will say, ‘How long can I stay in this until I get something good?’ And that’s a BS way to look at life,” he laughs.

 

 

If you can attend any of these great performances, I would highly recommend you take advantage of the great acoustics and fantastic atmosphere associated with the Liberty Hall in Tyler Texas. Better yet, if you are resident of Dallas Ft. Worth, then by all means go see all three artists. I am positive you will have a wonderful experience and Tyler is an incredible weekend get away!

Dreams of A Baby Boomer; Learning of European River Cruises

Why is a luxury river cruise appealing to Baby Boomers and why would a living breathing Boomer like me, switch gears at the ripe old age of 66 and halt my normal regime of world travel to ports of call around the world via air or train? I have opposed any type of cruise on one of the behemoth ocean liners for decades. Until recently I thought I knew what I wanted with life, as I edge toward the horizon.

 

 

I fancy a good meal and have taken cooking classes around the world. I love to cook and used to dream of sitting on a tropical balcony, sipping a good cup of coffee as I am not able to consume alcohol of any kind anymore since my heart attack. I miss fine wines terribly, but we always have a designated driver! My new dream is sitting on a ship’s veranda sipping coffee on a delightful river cruise. I am more enchanted with river cruises than beach habitats now.

 

 

Tam from Amita Thai Cooking Class in Bangkok Thailand

Tam from Amita Thai Cooking Class in Bangkok Thailand

 

I recently found a particularly new avenue to explore online and via the television. European river cruises with all their scenic advertisements began to appeal to me either sub-conscientiously or directly, I am not sure which. To add to the excitement I discovered that many of the cruise lines offer discounted cruises and travel deals. This is alluring to a Baby Boomer like me, especially if one has a limited income. In addition, there are two for one deals and special offers that one can look for, when you decide which cruise to take.

 

Danube River in Austria

Danube River in Austria

 

Why do I find river cruises appealing you might ask? In addition to the rather inexpensive pricing, as compared with the overall agenda, an extraordinary group of tours within the city destinations are offered, as well as scenic views like above. I have found that all tours are led by educated individuals with terrific presentation skills, humorous dialog and are informational to a history buff like me.

 

 

Besides, all the planning is handled by the cruise lines and you are always comfortable in knowing your vacation is being handled by individuals that have done this many times before. You also have the freedom to skip a tour and set off exploring on your own, if you feel adventurous. There are times I feel better about just setting out and exploring without a schedule. The river cruises give you the ability to determine your own path so to speak.

 

Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Budapest Hungary

Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Budapest Hungary

 

One of the more appealing aspects of river cruising is the fact that you only have to pack and unpack once. When I was younger, I had no issues tossing my clothes in a suitcase and traveled from city to city without any reservation or issues. I could get by with hardly any sleep and stay up until the wee hours of the morning. As the years continue to roll by, much faster that I desire, I find this issue becoming more and more unsettling.

 

 

The advantage of a river cruise is you unpack once and are still able to see a plethora of cities and experience various cultures, without packing and unpacking again. I have found a new passion. As I approach the final chapters in my life, I find the little aspects of living are the true treasures. River cruises have become a passion and as several octogenarians continue to cruise, I feel confident I have years left to enjoy my new interest. When will you take the leap and join the millions that cruise each year and when will you enjoy another river cruise? I would recommend a river cruise to anyone, of any age. Go for it!

Viking River Cruises, Budapest

For four years Kim and I have dreamed of taking a Viking River Cruise together through Europe. I have been disappointed year after year, as it never came to fruition. Neither one of us had ever been to the continent until this year. Miracle of miracles, I have been three times in 2015 and have completely become enamored with its architecture, people and food as a whole. I have fallen head over heels for the wonderful attributes of Europe. Most fortunately I also connected with Viking this year and Kim and I were able to participate in a trip of lifetime. In all our 37 years of marriage and vacations, nothing compares or can measure up to a river cruise with Viking. The overall impression is a 5-star involvement. We will treasure our memories the remainder of our living days.

 

Viking Longship Modi

Viking Longship Modi

 

We were given a list of four cruises to select from and I chose the “Danube Waltz Cruise”. Basically as a result of Kim’s creative abilities and the fact this cruise centered on Christmas Markets. I did not make the wrong choice, as I am sure you are aware, if you followed our escapades on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. We were met at the airport by a terrific native Hungarian who spoke very good English and proceeded to elaborate on a fair portion of the history of Hungary. They loaded our luggage and the superlative service began instantly. We arrived at the Viking Longship Modi and boarded to check in. The staff was friendly, accommodating and impressed me immediately. We were led to our stateroom where we had champagne, water and fabulous fresh cookies waiting for us to arrive. We were hooked right away!

 

Reception Area and upstairs Library

Reception Area and upstairs Library

 

Even though we were worn out from an over 20 hour  flight, we jumped right in for the  “Welcome Walk” at 2:00 PM, after checking into the ship. We walked for approximately 90 minutes and saw a glimpse of the Budapest Christmas Markets and several statues of Heroic individuals, along with a plethora of beautiful constructed government buildings. Most of which escapes my memory since we were exhausted. I was instantaneously mesmerized by the architecture in Budapest. Kim immediately was drawn to the Christmas Markets and the laser cut wooden spoons, as those of you that followed us know full well by now.

 

Wooden Spoons from the Christmas Market, Budapest

Wooden Spoons from the Christmas Market, Budapest

 

Each night the ship holds a briefing of scheduled activities for the following day. We napped right through the first “Welcome briefing” and somehow woke up for dinner. I can’t say enough about the food on Viking and will devote an entire post to Viking food! After dinner we went straight to bed and slept like rocks. To my knowledge we neither one moved after going to sleep. We were worn out. We both woke up during the early morning around 3:00 AM or so, because of the time difference.

 

I have a greater respect for the fortitude of the Hungarian people over the years. They have survived countless invasions, wars and staunch oppressors without losing their desire for Independence. The young lady tour guide on our bus presented it in a humorous fashion, stating countries would come to help and then forget to leave. Our tour was a combination bus ride and walking tour. All along the walking tour Viking has a guide that speaks English very well and instructs you on the various works of art, government buildings and parks you may pass, along with taking us through the Christmas Markets in Budapest. The markets were very crowded and she managed to not lose any people. I thought that was as amazing as her dialogue. On each tour every participant is furnished with a wireless headset in which you receive the tour guides narrative.

 

Marzipan of Many Flavors (Yes we bought some)

Marzipan of Many Flavors (Yes we bought some)

 

We returned just in time for lunch. I must add that the Maitre D’ attends individually to everyone with dietary needs or restrictions. I was impressed beyond comprehension. He stopped by our table, introduced himself and greeted all of us at every meal. He inquired if any of us had any allergies or issues. As I cannot eat certain foods, he privately discussed my needs and told me he would stop by each morning at breakfast and discuss the lunch and dinner menus. Each day he made sure to let me know what was safe for me to eat and helped me choose my appetizers, entree and desserts daily at breakfast. As each meal was open seating I just had to give the waiter my room number. I have to tell you, since I am naturally introverted, sitting with complete strangers was at first a little scary. In the end though Kim and I met fabulous, well traveled people and made several lasting friends. We traded emails, phone numbers in some cases and I really enjoyed the various individuals more than I anticipated.

 

One of the More Creative Packaging for Soap on a Rope

 

Little did we know our journey across some of Europe’s finest Christmas Markets was just beginning. These markets are beyond comprehension unless you have actually seen them. They all are a mixture of various crafts, souvenirs, foods and items particular to the individual countries. One item that was present at every Christmas Market was Gluhwein, both with alcohol and without. We didn’t realize until after Budapest, every market has their own mug and it comes with the Gluhwein! Some passengers collected mugs from every market. What a great way to remember each city’s Christmas Market. By the way Gluhwein tastes wonderful!

 

Buda Castle, as Seen From Our Side of the Danube

Buda Castle, as Seen From Our Side of the Danube

 

After lunch we had a choice between three “Optional Shore Excursions: The Godollo Palace and Gardens, The Dohany Synagogue or The Budapest Spa Experience. Optional tours cost additional funds. We chose to walk back to the Christmas Markets and explore them more in depth and review the remaining optional tours on the cruise. After all our main objective was to see and visit every Christmas Market, in every city we visited. We chose to revisit the Christmas Markets and explored until dinner on the ship. I barely made it through dinner and couldn’t eat my dessert, I was so full.

 

The next day we ate breakfast and joined the “Shore Excursion: Budapest” from 8:30 to 12:30 PM. Highlights were the National Opera House and the historic Heroes Square via a bus and then were able to walk along Fisherman’s Hill to Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church. I learned of the sacrifices the Hungarian people made over the years and how many hundreds of thousands people perished during all the wars collectively.

 

Paprika is One of the Largest Exports of Budapest

Paprika is One of the Largest Exports of Budapest

 

We  loved the bus ride and guide for the excursion through both the Buda and Pest sides of the Danube. Pest is a flat city filled with historic architecture. I love buildings that have survived wars and conquests from outside armies and still are standing. Some had exquisite and detailed trim, which I favor. Overall Budapest was one of our favorite cities and we have pledged to return. Then we hit the retail shops on Fisherman’s Hill and glimpsed the Danube from Fisherman’s Bastion.

 

Handmade Linens Adorn the Shops on Fisherman's Hill in Buda

Handmade Linens Adorn the Shops on Fisherman’s Hill in Buda

 

We learned that all goods labeled as handmade in Hungary, have to be authentically crafted and sewn in Hungary. If a retail shop offers goods from China or another country that basically is a knock off, they stand the chance of losing their business. Obviously it is not worth the risk. The shop that Kim purchased a table linen runner was in fact actually handcrafted in Hungary. Kim validated this by looking at the stitching on the reverse side. I would have never known! She loved the linens and vowed to wait to purchase additional items. Lesson learned. We quickly discovered, if you really like something buy it then, don’t wait or you take the chance of not seeing the item ever again.

 

Matthias Church with Magnificent Architecture, Especially the Roof Tiles

Matthias Church with Magnificent Architecture, Especially the Roof Tiles

 

At the top of Fisherman’s Hill is a gorgeous Roman Catholic church, originally built in 1015. The current building was constructed in Gothic style in the second half of the 14th century and was extensively restored in the late 19th century. It was the second largest church of medieval Buda and the seventh largest church of the Medieval Hungarian Kingdom. The first church on the site was founded by Saint Stephen, King of Hungary in 1015. This building was destroyed in 1241 by the Mongols; the current building was constructed in the latter half of the 13th century. Originally named after the Virgin Mary, taking names such as “The Church of Mary” and “The Church of Our Lady,” Matthias Church was named after King Matthias in the 19th Century.

 

We headed back to the Viking Longship Modi and sailed after dinner to our next destination, Bratislava.

 

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Azalea Trail #4, Azalea District Historic Homes

After touring the Pyron House’s garden, I used the rest of Saturday afternoon to see a couple of homes on the “Historic Tyler on Tour”, along the Azalea Trail. The first house on the tour was the Tyer Home and of course I left my entry ticket in the car four blocks away, where I parked. So I wasn’the able to get any interior photos. My apologies to the owners. It was a very stately looking home from the exterior. I loved the fountain!

 

 

The Tyer Home

The Tyer Home, Circa 1931, Mediterranean Revival

 

I walked back to my to car and retrieved my pass for the Hardin Home. The docent at the front door was very nice and outgoing. He made the experience pleasant. I did not listen to the entire tour, but I was able to grab a couple of quick photos. Time was rapidly flying by.

 

 

The Hardin Home

The Hardin Home, Circa 1936, Colonial Revival

 

I captured a couple of photos of the interior, the dining room and the living room. I thought the owners had done an excellent job of preparing for the tour. The home was very bright and filled with sunshine. I felt warm and at home!

 

The Hardin Home Living Room

The Hardin Home Living Room

 

The Hardin Home Dining Room

The Hardin Home Dining Room

 

This next home was a little different. I had my slip checked to validate I was at the Bankston home and actually visited it. As I entered, I was asked if I wanted the tour. I said no thank you as time was literally running out. I told the lady docent that I just wanted to take a few photos of the interior, for my blog and try and make the next house before they closed at 5:00 PM. The docent looked at me and said “You cannot take any photos in the house”.

 

I explained I was a guest of the city of Tyler, performing media functions and the other houses hadn’t had a problem. Her retort was caustic and she stood by her no photo rule. I said thank you kindly and exited. She followed me all the way out with her eyes. I am not sure if she was upset I didn’t want the tour or just didn’t like my Hawaiian shirt and beard. I knew when I wasn’t welcome and left.

 

The Bankston Home

The Bankston Home, Circa 1950, Mid-Century Modern

 

The Bankston Home Front Door

The Bankston Home Front Door

 

The last home on the tour for me was the Frank Home and it could not have been more different than the Bankston House. The docent greeted me with a huge smile and asked if I wanted the tour. I said yes, as I had plenty of time after the incident at the Bankston House. I was very happy I decided to go with the tour. I had four different docents and each were well versed on the history of the house and the couple that resided in the home presently. The lady of the house was quite a decorator and collected Franciscan Desert Rose China, just like my Mother. I had an instant bond!

 

The Frank Home

The Frank Home, Circa 1950, Ranch Style

 

The husband was an officer in the Navy and a Submarine officer at that. I would not be able to even ride a submarine much less live on one. In addition he was fantastic with his hands and did all kinds of work around the house. They tried to maintain as much of the 1950’s accents throughout the home as possible. This included the kitchen, the bathrooms, and several items they rebuilt or refinished. The counter below is a sample of the quality of work he does.

 

The Frank Home Kitchen

The Frank Home Kitchen

 

It was obvious that the wife was fond of the Franciscan Deseryt Rose China. The photo below shows many pieces that either weren’t available when my Mother was collecting or she didn’t have the funds. I was attracted to all the various items and cannisters with the design.

 

Franciscan Desert Rose China in the Frank Home

Franciscan Desert Rose China in the Frank Home

 

My favorite piece of all was this Piggy Bank located beside the stove top. I have never heard or seen this item before and the docent told me he thought it was rare, but he wasn’t sure. I do know it is out of stock on EBay and has been removed. The price quote was $97.00 before it was deleted. I can only guess it is fairly limited in supply.

 

Franciscan Desert Rose China Piggy Bank in the Frank Home

Franciscan Desert Rose China Piggy Bank in the Frank Home

 

I love Rattan furniture also and they had a set of the real straw furniture that was very old and authentic. I could sit on this porch every night watching as the sun set, and just might enjoy a toddy or two!

 

The Frank Home Sun Porch

The Frank Home Sun Porch

 

If you are wondering, there are 20 pillows on the bed. I personally have a hard time removing and returning this many pillows on my bed, but it wasn’t really my concern. Notice how great the curtains, pillow covers and comforter all match. The lady of the house has a great eye for design.

 

The Frank Home Master Bedroom

The Frank Home Master Bedroom

 

None of the homes on the tour were located adjacent to each other and many times it was comfortable walking between homes. I was flabbergasted by the quantity of outstanding homes located in the various districts of Tyler. There was home after home of fantastic architecture. I took many, many photos and thought the homes displayed below were some of the more attractive homes. I hope you enjoy!

 

Random House on the Azalea Trail

Random House on the Azalea Trail

 

Random House on the Azalea Trail

Random House on the Azalea Trail

 

Random House on the Azalea Trail

Random House on the Azalea Trail

 

Random House on the Azalea Trail

Random House on the Azalea Trail

 

Random House on the Azalea Trail

Random House on the Azalea Trail

 

Random House on the Azalea Trail

Random House on the Azalea Trail

 

Random House on the Azalea Trail

Random House on the Azalea Trail

 

This tour is an annual event tied into the Azalea Fest. I highly recommend you experience it in the coming years, if you are fond of old architecture and love seeing the result of makeovers. When I was younger and had just got married, my wife and I served as docents, on the Galveston Old Homes Tour and really loved meeting the people on the tours and delivering our spiels. I know when you come to Tyler you will be treated like royalty and thoroughly enjoy their tour immensely.

 

 

 

 

 

***Portions of my stay were in association with the City of Tyler. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

 

 

 

 

Azalea Trail #3, Azaleas & Spring Flowers

I was told the first thing I needed to see was the Pyron Home Garden, located on Dobbs in Tyler, before I saw any of the other houses on the Historic Azalea Trail. After my visit to this illustrious home and garden I completely understand the thought. I have seen many beautiful homes and gardens, but I am not sure I have seen the level of artistry displayed at this particular home, at any time in my past. As I walked to the side, to enter the back yard I talked with the owner briefly. He was redoing the entry walkway and adding stones that would extremely enhance the entrance. He was a nice chap, but wanted to work rather than gab. I can appreciate that and walked around the house. I took a few steps around the house to the rear and enjoyed this view.

 

Back of the Pyron Home

Back of the Pyron Home

 

Across the canal that ran through their house’s backyard and their neighbors, was this nice patch of grass. Please notice the detail of the canal. I am not sure if the city did this or the homeowners, but the result was work very well done! It blended in with surrounding yards and had beautiful walkways back and forth made from the same rock and stone. I was impressed with the craftmanship.

 

Back Area Along the Canal in the Pyron Home

Back Area Along the Canal in the Pyron Home

 

I then walked as far as I could to the rear fence and took another photo. I tried to capture the depth and size of the backyard. It was amazing. Not to mention the different sitting areas completely equipped with tables, chairs, couches, benches and of course a nice BBQ grill. I would spend many an afternoon in his area, if I lived in this house.

 

View of the Pyron Home From The Farthest Point

View of the Pyron Home From The Farthest Point

 

As I walked the yard the Azaleas popped out from one side to the other. I was approximately a week early though. I am guessing the week afterwards was excellent and more blooms would have been coming out.

 

Red Azaleas

Red Azaleas

 

I wasn’t aware that so many various colors existed with azaleas, Even the different colors had assorted variations. For an example I must have seen at least 10 different shades of pink and approximately 12 shades of red. Everywhere I turned I saw a different azalea.

 

Pink Azaleas

Pink Azaleas

 

This area of town, is known as the historic Alzalea Trail District. As I walked the neighborhood I ran into various assorted plants as illustrated below. I must have taken over 750 photos. It was hard to narrow down exactly which photos to put in my posts. This city is a royal garden of flowers and other blooming plants and trees.

 

Red and Pink Azaleas

Red and Pink Azaleas

 

This set of flowers were located at 1411 South Chilton and was The Hardin Home, one of the Old homes on the Historic Tyler Tour. I am not entirely sure what type of flower this is. I found it beautiful and had to take a photo.

 

Beautiful Flower (Code For I Am Not Sure of The Name)

Beautiful Flower (Code For I Am Not Sure of The Name)

 

This group of flowers were located in the same neighborhood along side of one of the sidewalks. Again, I fould this extremely attractive and wanted to share my photo.

 

Beautiful Flower (Code For I Am Not Sure of The Name)

Beautiful Flower (Code For I Am Not Sure of The Name Again)

 

This close up is from a Dogwood tree, outside the house behind the Pyron house. I love these trees and was lucky to find it blooming.

 

Close Up of a Dogwood Bloom At The Home Behind The Pyron Home

Close Up of a Dogwood Bloom At The Home Behind The Pyron Home

 

This is an example of one of the plaques in the neighborhood, as designated by the Department of the Interior. It is also designted as one of Tyler’s Historic Landmark’s. Quite an honor in my humble opinion.

 

An Historical Plaque at One of The Homes on The Azalea Trail

An Historical Plaque at One of The Homes on The Azalea Trail

 

Another lovely section of azaleas and other blooming flowers captured, as I walked through the neighborhood. I could have spent several days just taking photos and touring this neighborhood on foot.

 

Several Colors of Azaleas

Several Colors of Azaleas and Other Flowers

 

As a future reference, Tyler is known for their rose’s and the Tyler Rose Festival is held each year in October. You have plenty of time to make plans to attend. If I wasn’t going to be in Italy and Thailand in October 2015,  I would certainly spend a weekend touring the rose gardens.

 

 

 

 

 

***Portions of my stay were in association with the City of Tyler. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

 

 

 

 

 

Azalea Trail #2, Goodman-LeGrand House and Museum

After over 6 hours of driving through the back roads of Texas, I finally arrived in Tyler. I was famished and very eager to take a deep look into this historical and gorgeous town located in East Texas just off of Interstate 20. I had a full itinerary and was already behind because of evil road construction. My contact Holli Conley, the Marketing and Communications Manager had gone overboard to be helpful and ensure a fantastic trip was had by yours truly. She suggested a taco at the local food truck, located at the Goodman-LeGrand House and Museum for the Azalea activies weekends. I jumped at the chance.

 

Curbside Taco Truck

Curbside Taco Truck

 

I wasn’t disappointed and had a truly delicious quick bite. They make their tacos from corn tortillas, in the manner I like! Now to run through the Goodman Museum.  The house was originally built in 1859 and was a one story four room building located on the highest knoll in Tyler. After several owners and expansions it became the property of Dr. Samuel Adams Goodman from South Carolina originally. The Doctor’s son, a Confederate Major and general surgeon purchased the home from his father, upon his marriage to Mary Priscilla Gaston. They had three children Sallie, Will and Etta Goodman. The second story was added in 1880. Sallie married James LeGrand in 1893. After her father’s death in 1921 Sallie inherited the house. Mr. LeGrand and Sallie remodeled the home in 1926. Two story columns and rounded porticos were added to the facade in the Greek Revival style, which is how the house looks today. Upon her death in 1939 Sallie bequeathed the nine acres and the house with all the furnishings to the city of Tyler.

 

Entry to Goodman Museum

Entry to Goodman Museum

 

I entered the Museum and was completely blown away. If you don’t know it, I love antique furnishings and handmade acutrements. I immediately was confronted by the sitting room to the left and was impressed with the fashion the house was maintained.

 

Sitting Room

Sitting Room

 

On the left was a wonderful piano, that I would have given my little toe to play on. Hint I can’t really play the piano, but love the way the keys sound. It was such an ornate musical intrument I wouldn’t have really touched it, regardless.

 

Antique Piano

Antique Piano

 

I went across the entry way and saw this fireplace. Had to take a photo, in fact I think I took over 100 photos of the museum. The fireplace attracted my attention as it reminded me of some of the gas heaters I had a child growing up in Texas.

 

Antique Gas Fireplace

Antique Gas Fireplace

 

I turned left and what a dining room table. It was set for what looks like six patrons. There were so many beautiful dining items, between the flatware, the plates, both salad and dinner, not to mention the serving pieces, I couldn’t soak it all in.

 

Goodman Dining Table

Goodman Dining Table

 

As most of my followers know I love to eat and I love to cook. I was in my area of the house! This old gas oven really brought home memories og my grandparents and what they used to go through, just to have a holiday meal. My paternal grandmother had a cellar filed with all her canned goods to last the winter. I would guess back in the day this house had a similar setup some where out of the way and in a cool damp area.

 

Antique Cooking Stove

Antique Cooking Stove

 

What better way to relax than rocking back and forth in a handmade rocking chair. I know because I still have an antique rocking chair my grandfather made in the early twenties. Not too much longer and it wil be 100 years old. It’s heaven! This was obviously a piece of nice carpentry work, someone spent hours and hours on assembling.

 

Antique Rocking Chair

Antique Rocking Chair

 

In another room, most likely an “Office” area, I found this wonderful roll top desk, very similar again to the one I have that my grandfather made. This one though has a pull out desktop for writing, etc. I love that additional feature. Next to it is a radio or Victrola.

 

Goodman Desk

Goodman Desk

 

On top of the firplace was a collection of statues resembling many periods in history. Everything from the Greco-Roman period, to a more recent Wild West young man dressed as if he was attending a roundup. I like the clock in the centerpiece and it was actually in operation, if my memory serves me correctly. That is about the time I would have been in the Museum.

 

Figurines on the Fireplace Mantel

Figurines on the Fireplace Mantel

 

Upstairs in the huge Master Bedroom was a crib with the baby’s nightgown off to the side. All apparent handmade clothing and a nice looking quilt that was more than likely handmade also! Don’t miss the woolen socks.

 

Baby's Nightgown

Baby’s Nightgown

 

The husbamd’s clothing standing below, ready to take and put on, was very ornate and intricately handsewn. I am sure this was a method or maintaining ironed clothing and keeping the wrinkles away. The headless mannequins were a little eerie to me though.

 

Men's Attire

Men’s Attire

 

The wife’s clothing was laid out on the bed, with accompanying hat and purse. The other garments a true gentleman does not discuss in public!

 

Lady of the House's Clothes Laid Out

Lady of the House’s Clothes Laid Out

 

Beside the Master bed were two chairs and they caught my eye, because one was a child’s size, made from bentwood and straw, weaved for the seat and back. It took many hours of love and labor to complete the chair. Beside is an adult’s chair, that wasn’t as complicated to construct, but I am sure served its purpose.

 

Adult and Child's Chairs

Adult and Child’s Chairs

 

Interestingly enough I found this antique wheelchair sitting in the hallway upstairs. Makes me wonder if someone had to use it for several years. The depression in the seat area indicates it was well worn and used frequently. Compare this piece of equipment with the more modern chairs of today. Remarkable progression has been made!

 

Antique Wheelchair

Antique Wheelchair

 

This bedroom belonged obviously to one of the daughter’s, but I am not entirely sure which young lady resided in this bedroom.

 

Female Child's Bedroom

Female Child’s Bedroom

 

When I was a child and came across a bannister like this I would scoot down the rail and keep doing it over and over until I got in trouble. It’s the small joys in life you remember and this would have been one heck of a ride!

 

Magnificent Goodman Staircase

Magnificent Goodman Staircase

 

I left the museum and wondered over to a sitting area filled with benches and plants of all kinds. I would guess that the Goodman’s and the Legrand’s spent many an evening sitting in this garden and watching the sun go down. They maybe even had a toddy or two. Who knows for sure. I do know the museum is one of the highlights of my trip and when you visit Tyler you need to stop by and see the museum, even if you have a limited visit. I assure you that you will come away glad you did!

 

Goodman Garden

Goodman Garden

 

As I was leaving, I stopped by the desk to say thank you for the tour and I was fortunate to run into Mary Foster, who is the Museum curator. I told her she was doing a fantastic job and the museum in my humble opinion was outstanding. She was a very bubbly and outgoing young lady and you could tell, that even though hundreds of people were visiting that day, she was able to maintain her composure and smile at everyone. I was impressed with her multi-tasking performance, as she carried on no less than four different conversations with staff and visitors at the same time, all the time smiling. She is the backbone of the museum I believe and does a great job as curator.

 

 

***Portions of my stay were in association with the City of Tyler. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

 

Brazilian Brilliance: Exploring Rio de Janeiro

Brazil is South America’s largest country and is home to some of the world’s most diverse destinations. Tropical islands, amazon forests and sun-blessed beaches are a few of its natural tourist attractions but this country is also home to one of the world’s most popular destinations — Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil’s second largest city is also the most visited city in the Southern Hemisphere, but a trip to Rio should include more than just its city delights.

 

Rio highlights

 

Relaxing in Rio

Relaxing in Rio

 

Understandably, a trip to Rio city wouldn’t be complete without a spot of gentle relaxation on, or a stroll along one of the world’s most famous beaches, the 4 kilometer long Copacabana. This is one of the world’s most picturesque destinations and you’ll find no better place to view Guanabara Bay, Sugarloaf Mountain and the city landscape than from the summit of the 700 meter Corcovado Mountain, home of the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue. Rio has also been called one of the world’s happiest destinations, which is exemplified every year during the wild and colorful carnival, a tradition that dates back to 1723. You can visit Rio if you book with Saga Travel.

 

Out of the city

 

Take a day away from the city to explore some of Rio’s treasures, including Itatiaia, Brazil’s oldest national park. The Serra dos Órgãos is another amazing national park, stretching 110 square kilometers and featuring a mountain range dating back around 60 million years; it’s here that you’ll find the ‘God’s Finger’ formation resembling a hand with index finger pointing upwards. If you’re visiting the Órgaos, don’t miss a trip to the imperial city of Petropolis, founded around 1722 and home to the Imperial Museum, some beautiful canals and many idyllic little parks. Sightseeing can also include Costa Verde in the west where you can enjoy hillside jungles, near deserted bays and sparkling lagoons.

 

God's Finger

God’s Finger

 

The restaurant scene

 

Once the sun goes down it’s time to head away from the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches to indulge in the country’s cuisine. Rio does cater to every taste and you’ll easily find French, Italian, Spanish and Lebanese restaurants in the city. But make sure to try out some authentic Brazilian dishes such as the coconut-infused seafood stews or the tender jerked meat (carne seca). As you’d expect the seafood dishes are as fresh as they come and there’s plenty of shrimp and Amazonian fish choices available. Barbecue restaurants or churrascarias are ubiquitous throughout the city and you can enjoy freshly-cooked meats on sizzling spits, sliced directly onto the plate at your table.

 

This is just a flavor of the many highlights in and around one of Brazil’s most sublime cities. You might come for the beaches, but make sure to get out of the city and explore some of the world’s most unforgettable beauty spots.

 

Images by Rocco Lucia and Glauco Umbelino, used under Creative Commons license

In collaboration with Saga Travel.

 

Turkey’s Best Festivals

Turkey, as the melting pot of the East and West, brandishes plenty of religious and cultural festivals.  As a traveler and a keen observer, much can be learned of the country through these festivals. If you happen to be traveling in the country during any one of these, don’t miss out the chance to observe and participate in one.

 

While Turkey is a secular state with no official religion, 99.8% of Turkish people follow the Islam religion and uses the Muslim Hijra calendar in the observance of religious festivals.  Here are the most important events practiced in the country:

 

  • The Ramadan or Ramazan in Turkish is the most essential Islamic festival. The Ramadan is observed throughout the ninth month of the Muslim year, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Non-Muslims must be mindful of eating and drinking in front of Muslims observing the fast during the day as a sign of respect. After dark, practicing Muslims go to iftar tents to break their fast with family and friends. Travelers and non-Muslims are welcome to join the dinner.

 

  • The Ramadan month is followed by a three-day Sugar Holiday or Şeker Bayramı in Turkish. It marks the end of the 30-days fast. During this time, families meet for reunions and visit the elderly. Children also go around the neighborhood wishing everyone a happy bayram. Adults give them sweets in return. Restaurants are full with families celebrating and it’s always a good idea to call ahead for a reservation.

 

In case you miss the religious festivals, there’s a long list of arts and cultural festivals to choose from.  Some are held in the culture and entertainment hub of Istanbul, and other more quirky and intriguing festivals in smaller towns and villages around the country. Here’s our top arts and culture festivals around Turkey:

 

  • Witness a major Oil Wrestling event between June-July. Oil wrestling is Turkey’s national sport. This week-long event is held in Yağlı Güreş. Players from all-over the country flock here to compete. Watch men doused in olive oil try to pin each other down in attempt to expose the opponents navel to the sky. The rule is first wrestler whose “umbilicus is exposed to heaven” loses. Audiences are also treated to a fun week of music and dance performances.

 

  • Camel Wrestling Festival is also one of the festivals that takes its roots from the ancient times. The main event is held in Selçuk on the last two weekends of January. Camels are led to the grounds to fight and the first camel to fall on the ground or flee from the fight loses. In the recent years, animal welfare groups have protested citing the practice as a form of animal cruelty. Organisers have responded with modified rules and practices to prevent animal injury.

 

Camel-Wrestling

Camel-Wrestling

 

 

  • Art lovers can explore Turkish creative works. In the month of April, the much-celebrated Istanbul International Film Festival commences and Turkish films of good quality are shown in the movie theaters. Classical music fans can visit from June-July to witness extraordinary performances from orchestras and solo singers set in historical locations at the Istanbul International Classical Music Festival.

 

  • The whirling Dervishes performance at the Mevlâna Festival is held during December in Konya. The dance is one of the highest forms of ceremonies from Mevlâna, an Islamic philosopher who believed that union with God is possible through dance. Another festive event happens to welcome spring known as the Hıdırellez Gypsy festival. Street parties are held in Edirne with performances from the local Gypsy bands. The tradition is to make a wish while jumping over bonfires.

 

Whirling-Dervishes

Whirling-Dervishes

 

 

  • Last but not least, the Marmaris Maritime and Spring Festival is gaining enourmous traction from not only visitors from Turkey but international guests as well. Held in mid May, this festival is all about celebrating the coastal region with sand sculpture competitions, fishing competitions, to markets, beach parties and concerts. The International Yachting Exhibition is held at the same time and most tourists and travelers will join a Marmaris to Fethiye gulet cruise following the festival and to top their holiday!

 

Blue-cruise-Marmaris

Blue-cruise-Marmaris

 

 

 

To make your stay in Turkey more memorable it’s definitely worth checking out one of Turkey’s festivals; it’s a true insight into the people and culture of this amazing country.

 

In collaboration with Alaturka Yachting & Travel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Santiago Way: How to Keep Your Feet Fighting Fit

El Camino de Santiago is one rough, tough pilgrimage across Spain, a long distance hike across concrete, dirt roads and trail which will test your nerve, resolve and, above all, your feet. There are plenty fun stops on the way, with little need for navigation, and you may well find companionship with some fellow trekkers. However, when the going gets tough on this hot and dusty hike, your feet go first, so here are some top tips for saving your soles!

 

Keep Your Feet Fighting Fit

Keep Your Feet Fighting Fit

 

Before you set off

 

Be kind to your feet and get them on side – they’ve got miles and miles to go. Use a foot spa (or a plastic basin – often just as good) and give them a long soak in hot water. Add Epsom salts to soothe the skin and drain any excess fluid retention, and a few drops of peppermint oil to get your circulation flowing. Then, use a pumice stone to buff away any callouses, rough skin and generally polish up your feet. Once feet are dry, give them a good rub with some barrier cream, and cut toenails straight across – there’s nothing worse than an overlong nail rubbing against the side of your hiking boot for 5 miles.

 

 

Pack a recovery kit

 

The sooner you treat developing blisters, the less aggravation they’ll give you. Blisters will arise in spots where friction occurs, you can take preventative measures by taping over any areas of your foot that will rub inside your hiking boot with some high quality medical tape. Air your feet regularly, as heat and sweat will quickly exacerbate matters if skin starts to rub. Pack strong plasters, duct tape (to place over a plaster that won’t stay in place), artificial skin and antiseptic cream. Ibuprofen is also great to have on hand. Finally, no true pilgrim leaves the house without a spare pair of hiking socks – that’s just common sense.

 

 

On the big day

 

On the Big Day

On the Big Day

 

 

The equipment you bring along on your adventure can make or break the condition of your feet. A light backpack is, of course, key. In El Camino de Santiago you won’t need to worry about bringing extra bottles of water, one will suffice, as there’s plenty of access to safe sources of drinking water. Your hiking boots should either be well worn, or at the very least, broken in, and a spare pair of insoles are a good investment. You may also want to consider the possibility of cross or trail trainers – they’re lightweight, breathable, and work better for some hikers than boots.

 

 

Follow this advice, and your feet will be fit to carry you across the fantastic and varied Santiago way. Happy trails!

 

Images by Daniel Sancho and Xacobeo used under the Creative Commons license.

 

Guest Post: Clint Davis is a backpacker and wanderer and is never happier than when he’s out in the fresh air exploring the world’s trails. He also enjoys bird watching.

Holiday in Lanzarote: Top 5 active pursuits

Regarded by many as a typical beach holiday destination, there is more than meets the eye to Lanzarote. Yes there are spectacular crescent shaped beaches featuring beautiful turquoise water that sweeps over enticing white sand, but simply soaking up the sun and ignoring the plethora of pastimes on offer is a big mistake. So with this in mind, here are some active pursuits you should definitely consider on a trip to this particular Canary Island. Little wonder then that flights to Lanzarote are in high demand.

 

1.Explore Timanfaya National Park – The landscape here might look like another world or planet, but this is what the Earth looked like in prehistoric times. The Timanfaya National Park features 25 volcanoes packed into just 50 square kilometres, with each and every one bound to take your breath away. A coach trip around the park is included in the entry fee, but the free guided walk service should not be missed.

 

2.Try scuba diving or snorkelling – Beneath the water of Lanzarote’s east coast are an abundance of fascinating sights, from coral reef and caves to shipwrecks and marine life. While this is an exhilarating playground for any experienced diver, novices looking to learn the ropes can take advantage of affordable introductory sessions from numerous operators on the island. But if you don’t fancy plunging the depths of the ocean, there is still plenty to see with just a snorkel.

 

Snorkeling, Lanzarote

Snorkeling, Lanzarote 

 

3.Go fishing – Standing on the shore alongside a local while casting out your line in the hope of catching a Mediterranean Snapper, Yellowmouth Barracuda or Parrot fish is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. However, if you want a bit more excitement and exhilaration, go on a big game fishing excursion. You’ll be competing with others on the boat to catch the biggest fish of the day, which can include tuna, marlin and sharks.

 

Gone Fishing in Lanzarote

Gone Fishing in Lanzarote 

 

4.Trek in the mountains – Don’t be fooled by Lanzarote’s volcanic origins, as there is still a lot of flora and fauna to see on the island. Sign up to a trekking tour of the Apache Mountains, one of the oldest parts of Lanzarote, and discover the natural delights of this protected area. Alternatively, visit Las Peñas del Chache, the island’s highest point.

 

5.Give surfing a go – Described by some as the Hawaii of Europe, the Canary Islands are blessed with shallow lava reefs and impressive waves, which make surfing a favoured activity. If you’re a beginner, head to Famara on the north coast, as there is plenty of space to surf without getting in the way of more experienced locals. Those struggling to stand up on a board might want to give windsurfing a try instead.

 

Throw in the tasty Mediterranean fare, year round sunshine and friendly locals, and you can see how Lanzarote caters for your getaway needs.

 

 

Images by Sophie Nicol and Son of Groucho, used under the Creative Commons license.

In collaboration with Thomson flights

 

 

5 Reasons to Walk the Camino Frances

A few years back I was fortunate enough to see a movie entitled “The Way”. It was a tremendous movie about walking the Camino de Santiago and “finding yourself”. Emilio Estevez wrote and produced the film. The lead actor was played by Martin Sheen and dealt with the death of his son, while walking the Camino Frances. I became overcome with emotion and was enthralled with the idea of walking the Camino. The movie honours the Camino de Santiago and promotes the traditional pilgrimage. I made the decision that one day I would walk the Camino. Having just initiated a divorce, after 36 years of marriage, I cannot think of a better time than next spring, to fulfill this walk and clear the spider webs out of my brain! “You don’t Choose A Life, You Live One”!

 

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France #1

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, France #1

 

I met Leslie Gilmour who oversees blogs and Facebook pages on the Camino and he gladly submitted this blog post for publication. Please support his links and take the time to investigate his thoughts and writing! Just imagine managing to take a precious month off work.  Now imagine spending that time walking 500 miles across Spain carrying all you need in your rucksack, sleeping in hostels every night and hand washing your own clothes. This is the pilgrimage route of the Camino de Santiago, more specifically the Camino Frances which starts in St Jean Pied de Port in the south of France and ends in Santiago de Compostela, the northwest corner of Spain.  More than 150,000 people walk this route every year and the amount of Americans hiking it is exponentially growing year on year. So why do so many people decide to stay away from the beach and walk a pilgrimage instead?

 

 

The Challenge

 

Cirauqui-Villamajor-de-Monjardin, Puente la Reina y Estella Spain #5 & #6

Cirauqui-Villamajor-de-Monjardin, Puente la Reina y Estella Spain #5 & #6

 

From Ben Nevis, to Kilimanjaro, to Mount Everest we humans just seem to love a challenge. However most challenges appear to be only available for the well off or super fit. The Camino fills that gap.  Almost anyone can walk 500 miles over a month and privation attracts many who want some basic living in their life for a while. I have met many like me who were unfit and over-weight that set out on a journey of a lifetime. The biggest lesson, for me, after walking 500 miles was I can do so much more than I ever imagine – however it is done one small step at a time.

 

 

Time Out From Life

 

Viana-Sote, Los Arcos y Logrono, Spain, #7

Viana-Sote, Los Arcos y Logrono, Spain, #7

 

I met and talked to many along the way who just wanted a rest from very a busy life. Many, it appears, wanted time out to evaluate their life, where they are and where they are going.  I was amazed to meet and talk to so many outwardly successful people that were discontent. Walking 25 to 30km every day, not staring at a computer screen all day, not having to juggle competing priorities, is incredibly restful.  There are numerous accounts of walkers going home after the Camino and making huge changes to their life. The rhythm of walking everyday, the simplicity of needing very few belongings has had an impact on how I life my life – today I ask myself often, how much is enough?

 

Religious

 

Azofra-Belorado-04-Sto-Domingo-de-la-Calzada, La Rioja Spain, #10

Azofra-Belorado-04-Sto-Domingo-de-la-Calzada, La Rioja Spain, #10

 

Yes, in this secular world some pilgrims do still walk for religious reason.  During holy years the amount of pilgrims walking any of the Camino route increases by at least 50%.  A holy year is when the feast day of St James, 25th July, falls on a Sunday – the next holy year is 2021.  By walking during a holy year a believer is entitled to a plenary indulgence – the forgiveness of all sins to date and remission of all punishments for these. Interestingly there have been some appeals to have an additional holy year before 2021 as the last one was 2010 – this was to help the economy of northern Spain, which has suffered due to the on-going recession since 2008. After completing your hike on the Camino you can receive a certificate from the pilgrims office in Santiago.  There are two main types of certificate, (compostela), one is secular and is a certificate of accomplishment, and the other is issued for walking for either religious or spiritual reasons. However a pilgrim must walk at least 100km, or cycle 200km, to be entitled to their certificate.  This is one of the reasons why so many start walking at Sarria, which is 112km from Santiago.

 

Make Friends

 

Belorado-San-Juan-de-Orega-road-in-mountains, Belorado Spain, #11

Belorado-San-Juan-de-Orega-road-in-mountains, Belorado Spain, #11

 

When I set off on my first Camino in 2004 I thought I would be spending a lot of time on my own.  I saw myself walking in the wilderness of northern Spain barely meeting or talking to people. However the Camino is busy and popular.  Most days I split my time walking on my own and sometimes walking with one or two others.  The nature of the stages means that you travel along meeting a lot of the same people each night in the hostels.  Due to the time spent with people or the walk itself, I like many others opened up much faster than I would in my daily life. I finished walking in Santiago with my wife to be, who I met during the walk – that was 9 years ago and we are still living happy ever after – with the usual bumps…

 

Get Fit and Lose Weight

 

Botafumeiro

Botafumeiro, #29

 

 

I suggest this one slightly tongue in cheek. Leaving St Jean I was 15stone, 210lbs. After walking for a month and eating whatever I wanted I had lost 14lbs and I was fitter than I had been in years. This is just a side benefit, I would never suggest losing weight to be the main motivation for the Camino. There are not many opportunities for a holiday that you will never forget.  The Camino is one of these.  I have heard the Camino described as a once in a lifetime opportunity, however many like me return again and again to walk the same route or one of the many other Camino routes. Leslie has walked the Camino three times and writes on his Camino blog, has free maps you can download, and runs a helpful forum on all the Camino routes.

 

 

 

Photo of The Day #78, My Special Pedicure at The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat

I am very fond of pedicures and having my feet massaged. When given the Spa menu at the Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat I opted for a pedicure, as opposed to a massage. Over the prior week I had received two wonderful Thai massages. One massage was in Bangkok and the other one in Phuket, so I decided I would go for a change of pace. I made my reservation and went to spa a few minutes prior to my pedicure. The waiting room was filled with deep cushioned chairs and lounges and I thought, given a few minutes I might just doze off.

 

Entrance to The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat

Entrance to The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat

 

The attendants let me know that I would have a session in their Antioxidant room prior to the pedicure. When I inquired what that meant, they led me in and had me lay prone on a mat and relax. Almost immediately the room was filled with a very warm blast of air and I felt like I was in a sauna. The attendant informed me that my session, which would basically eliminate toxins from my entire body, was to last fifteen minutes. After what seemed an eternity, and an inability to breathe I got up and decided I had to leave the room and grab a few whiffs of oxygen. Once I was outside I discovered I had only been in the room for right at five minutes. I cannot understand how anyone could last the full fifteen minutes.

 

Antioxidant Room at The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat

Antioxidant Room at The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat

 

I was then lead into the pedicure room by the attendant scheduled to perform my pedicure and she began the process. I interviewed the young lady, as she began the procedure and I discovered that she was from India, a graduate of business school and was at the Banjaran to learn how to run a spa. Her dream was to return to India and open her own spa, after absorbing everything she could at The Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat. I inquired how they interviewed her and she stated by a Google Hangout. I thought that was very cool, given we conduct a Google+ Hangout almost weekly with our son in Japan. I love the process. Obviously they thought she was what they needed, as she was hired and given two weeks to move to Ipoh Malaysia, where the spa is located.

 

 

The Pedicure Room for the Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat

The Pedicure Room for the Banjaran Hotsprings Retreat

 

My pedicure was to last one hour, but it turned out I was in the room for 90 minutes, as we talked about her dream and my travel blogger business. I was amazed to learn that she was fluent in four languages. She was a very intelligent, extroverted young lady and I could tell she would achieve her dream and have that spa one day. I believe this with all my heart. She was well versed in customer service attributes and was learning the details of all the spa processes. I wish her the best of luck and need to thank her publicly, for what turned out to be the best pedicure I have ever had. If she continues down this path, learning all the other spa treatments, her spa in India will be very successful and profitable.

 

 

*** My trip to Thailand and Malaysia was sponsored by Thai Airways, the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Tourism Malaysia USA. All opinions are solely mine and as always, generated without any influence.

 

 

Photo of The Day #77, You Think You Have Obstacles in Your Life???

When I was in Thailand this last November one of the tours we ventured out on, as guests of the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Thai Airways, was the James Bond Island tour. We wound up back at the Koy Panyee Sea Gypsy Village in Phang Nga Bay for lunch. After a wonderful meal of lobster, fish, shrimp and a dessert of fresh pineapple, we were allowed to walk through the complex of various gift shops, food outlets and an elementary school for the village children.

 

Panyee Village Elementary School

Panyee Village Elementary School

 

Near the school was a structure floating in the ocean and at first I couldn’t figure out what it was. As I walked nearer I recognized nets and soon discovered it was actually a soccer field for the kids to use, as the amount of raw land wasn’t sufficient to have a normal soccer field. I thought this was a wonderful and amazing idea. Little did I know the real story behind this pitch!

 

Panyee Floating Soccer Field

Koh Panyee Floating Soccer Field

 

Yesterday I shared a photo of this field on Instagram and Facebook. A fellow travel blogger and friend Vanessa Workman attached the video below, from TMBbrand’s channel. They have launched a new brand vision “Make THE Difference”, by making films that would inspire people to start thinking differently. I sincerely hope you take away as much as I did from this video.

 

Cuba A Cultural Mix

***This is post was contributed by Holiday Hypermarket.

 

Christopher Columbus pronounced that Cuba was the “most beautiful land that human eyes had ever seen” when discovering the island in 1492. Some 500 years later and the sun-drenched Caribbean island with sparkling waters attracts almost three million visitors per year. The largest island in the Caribbean, Cuba offers a unique vacation experience in what has been described as a cultural paradise with a diverse population mix. This diverse mix of island inhabitants, including Chinese and Japanese, gives the island a unique cultural heritage and those from Far East countries will find some particular points of interest for their Cuba holidays:

 

arturstaszewski

China’s influence on Cuba

 

The Chinese have a long history with Cuba and migrants arrived to work on the island as far back as 1847 before settling permanently. Chinese-Cubans are part of the culture of the island and visitors will find many businesses, restaurants and shops. The city of Havana has its own ‘Barrio Chino’ or Chinese neighbourhood where the Chinese influence can be seen in the architecture, restaurants and beauty parlours. In this area of Havana there are also museums where you can learn some of the history of the importance the Chinese had on creating the Cuba we know today.

 

Diverse island cuisine

 

Cuba offers a wealth of cuisine options thanks to the diverse population mix. You can easily find a restaurant to suit your taste whether you’re looking for Chinese, Japanese or Korean food. Of course you may wish to try some traditional Cuban dishes although the ‘traditional’ dishes are actually influenced by many nationalities including Spanish, Portuguese, African, French and the Chinese. Classic Cuban dishes rely heavily on spices and a sofrito sauce that gives the chicken and meat dishes their unique flavour; try the Carne de Cerdo, a slow roasted pork or the beef hash for a taste explosion.

 

Neiljs

The world’s most beautiful beaches

 

One Cuban attraction that will appeal no matter which country you hail from is the fantastic beaches. The island beaches are regarded as some of the best in the world and include the idyllic 2.5 mile long Playa Paraiso at Caya Largo. This uninhabited island lies just southwest off the coast of Cuba and with a single bar serving rum and cigars, what more do you need?  If you don’t fancy the boat trip to Caya Largo then check out other slices of paradise such as Playa Ancon near Trinidad or Caya Jutias, which is about as serene a beach as it gets.

 

From the vibrant city atmosphere of Havana to the year round high temperatures to the beautiful beaches, it’s not hard to see why Cuba is a top holiday location. An 11 hour flight is all that stands between the Far East and experience this incredible island.

 

 

Images by Neiljs and Artur Staszewski used under the Creative Commons licence.

 

Photo of The Day #75, Rick-Shaws at The Blue House in Penang Malaysia Played My Emotions

As we approached the Cheong Fatt Tze mansion commonly known as The Blue House, in the old Georgetown section of Penang Malaysia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, I immediately gravitated to the plethora of Rick-Shaws lined up on the front porch. I have no idea why I am attracted to these antique modes of transportation or why I take endless photos of them. I can remember my first visit to Hong Kong in 1973 and how common they were at that time, as a personal transportation source. They have fascinated me for over 40 years.

 

Single Rick-Shaw with Umbrella

Single Rick-Shaw with Umbrella

 

Over time the quantity and elaborate vehicles have waned and their use diminished extensively. They are still found in a select few cities, like the Georgetown area of Penang, but in most cases it is just a form of tourist attraction and there seems to be a perpetual contest to see which Rick-Shaw can be decorated the gaudiest. We stopped our first night in Penang and all climbed into our Rick-Shaws for a pre-arranged guided and moderated tour. I was fortunate that my guide spoke excellent English and was familiar with local history.

 

 

Double Rick-Shaw

Double Rick-Shaw

 

I was amazed that my guide was near my age, probably had about 1% body fat and I had to outweigh him by at least 50 pounds. He peddled like I was a feather and no sign of struggle or additional effort was displayed during our tour. I think he was used to this routine and when we stopped the ride I tipped him, thanked him and walked away. When I looked back he was lighting up a cigarette, as if to say “I got this covered and then some”!

 

Double-Single Rick-Shaw That Could be a Triple

Three-Single Rick-Shaw That Appear to be a Triple

 

I would recommend you take a whirl on one of these magnificent contraptions and try and visualize what is was like “Back in the Day”! They are in the process of being phased out and it is just another piece of history that we will not be able to experience before too long. Jump in and travel back while you have the chance. I feel fairly certain your brain will allow you to transport yourself back in time and you will be able to appreciate a little slice of history, when things moved at a slower pace and one could appreciate their surroundings.

 

 

 
*** My trip to Thailand and Malaysia was sponsored by Thai Airways, the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Tourism Malaysia USA. All opinions are solely mine and as always, generated without any influence.

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