Mardi Gras at the Beach!

 

If you aren’t aware we have a great Mardis Gras in Galveston Texas. I was lucky enough to participate in the first ever revived Mardis Gras parade in 1985! Believe me it was one wild night. My wife and I were on one of the first floats, trying to toss beads. Needless to say there was plenty of fun for everyone! This is the “Press Release” from my friends at the Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau:

 

Galveston Logo

 

GALVESTON ISLAND, TEXAS

3rd Largest Mardi Gras Celebration in U.S. Offers Beachfront Revelry on the Texas Coast

 

GALVESTON ISLAND, TEXAS (December 1, 2016) – If you’re looking for a unique Mardi Gras experience in 2017, grab some beads and hit the beach.

 

Mardi Gras! Galveston, the third largest Mardi Gras celebration in the United States, offers the unique chance to experience sand between your toes and gorgeous beach sunsets while taking in the revelry and lavish parades known to dominate Galveston Island during carnival season.

 

The island’s 106th Mardi Gras celebration, to be held February 17-28, 2017, is expected to draw more than 350,000 attendees for 30+ concerts, 24 parades, 20 balcony parties and several elegant balls. And, this island-style Mardi Gras has plenty of personality. Find your Mardi Gras style with these highlights:

 

The island’s 106th Mardi Gras celebration, to be held February 17-28, 2017, is expected to draw more than 350,000 attendees for 30+ concerts, 24 parades, 20 balcony parties and several elegant balls. And, this island-style Mardi Gras has plenty of personality. Find your Mardi Gras style with these highlights:

 

  • Classic Revelry – Galveston’s historic downtown entertainment district will put you in the center of classic Mardi Gras revelry complete with big crowds and plenty of beads. Nearly all parades go through downtown, where you can enjoy the view from the street or from above at a balcony party. Main concert stages are also located downtown, where the event’s headline performances will take place. The festival’s largest parades also run along the beachfront on Seawall Boulevard. New in 2017, Mardi Gras! Galveston will host the Krewe of Olympus Parade Feb. 17 supporting the LGBT community. On Sunday, Feb. 19, the event will include “A Salute to Tejano Music,” featuring live Tejano entertainment, two parades and other festivities.

 

  • Upscale Mardi Gras – If you’re looking to catch any of the colorful beads to be thrown from parade floats and downtown balconies, you don’t have to stand in the streets to do it. Mardi Gras! Galveston’s elegant side will feature several masked balls where black-tie attire, lavish buffets, live performers, dancing and parade viewing invoke the evening festivities. Popular events include the San Luis Salute hosted by Tilman and Paige Fertitta and The Tremont House’s A&M Mardi Gras Parade Viewing Party.

 

  • Family Gras – Sunday, Feb. 26 is Family Gras at Mardi Gras! Galveston, featuring live family entertainment, kids parades, a kids coloring contest and more. Donations will be taken at the gate to benefit The Sunshine Kids and Shriners Hospitals for Children. Highlights for the day include the Krewe of Barkus & Meoux pet parade and Mardi Gras Children’s Parade on among other events.

 

  • Electric Mardi Gras – Electric Mardi Gras will return in 2017 with a special concert area at 21st and Mechanic streets in downtown Galveston. This area will provide one big party for lovers of electronic dance music, with continuous concerts, beat-thumping DJs and laser light shows on Fridays and Saturdays throughout the celebration. Headliners in 2017 will include Bright Lights and Tropkillaz.

 

Tickets to Mardi Gras! Galveston are now on sale. For details, visit www.mardigrasgalveston.com.

 

About Mardi Gras! Galveston

 

Mardi Gras, the traditional festival of feasting and merrymaking that precedes the season of Lent, was first publicly observed on Galveston Island in 1867. Following a sabbatical imposed in 1941 by war and challenging times, Mardi Gras! Galveston was revived in 1985 by Galveston-born preservationist and developer George P. Mitchell. The largest celebration of its kind in Texas and the third largest in the nation, Mardi Gras! Galveston brings the island’s streets to life with parade viewers shouting for beads, lively tunes played by the colorful marching bands, and the infectious merriment that dominates the island for two full weeks.

Lewis and Clark Travel Gear #2

I am lucky enough again to be testing several travel products from Lewis N Clark. I am very happy that they have decided to work with me and allow me to test products they produce primarily for traveling and the outdoors. As in my last post on their products, I will be open and forthright in regards to my impressions.

 

My first item is a pair of flight compression socks to keep my legs from swelling on long International flights. They are intended to help prevent deep vein thrombosis. I received a size medium, as I wear a size 9 men’s shoe and it says men’s 6-9 shoe. This was actually a little too tight for my extra large calves and I should have asked for a large. On the positive side my wife loves them and wears them constantly. So if you order these just make sure you take your calf size into consideration.

 

 

Flight Socks

Flight Socks

 

 

The next item shipped was a three pack of compression packers which are ideal for travel and storage of bulky items, like sweaters. The compression works best when you roll the air out, rather than folding the bags. They are great if you have additional items you are packing for and extended trip or if your trip requires several dress options. The sizes in the 3-pack set includes one of each of the following: Small: 20in x 14in, Medium: 23in x 16in, Large: 28in x 18in.

 

To unseal the bags just pull open the zipper from the middle. Additionally they work well for wet clothing that you do not want soiling the other clothes. They are completely reusable and protect against dust, bugs and weather. Definitely a thumbs up for the compression packers.

 

 

20160811_104854-blog

 

 

My next item is another hanging toiletry kit, with a different type of layout and material. Features water-resistant TPU and mesh compartments to accommodate a variety of toiletries. This brushed twill hanging toiletry kit fits anything from contact lenses and hand wipes to lotion and lip balm. It contains many zippered compartments on the interior and exterior both. It has elastic straps to hold items and has a metal hanger that fits most towel bars and knobs.

 

 

Hanging Toiletry Kit

Hanging Toiletry Kit

 

It zips completely closed and if truth be known, I use it daily to go to the gym as a man purse to hold my wallet, keys, smartphone and everything else I would ordinarily carry in my pants pockets. I love it and trust me it travels well when you use it for a toiletry kit. It’s very compact. It only weighs 6 ounces prior to placing items in the kit. The exterior is a brushed twill.

 

 

Closed Hanging Toiletry Kit

Closed Hanging Toiletry Kit

 

The last item is one that I use daily and is such a convenience. Most of the adapter plugs I have bought and used were a bulky, hard to carry unit and barely fit in my backpack pocket. This adapter kit is small and has every type of plug used around the world. It’s so fantastic and even I can align the various plugs so that they fit into the carrying case, which is only 2in x 3.5in x 2.5in. It weighs 6 ounces and is light as a feather in my opinion. I love this item.

 

Adapter Plug Kit with Dual USB Charger

Adapter Plug Kit with Dual USB Charger

 

The photo above displays all the various plugs which will work in more than 175 countries, including most parts of Africa, Asia, Europe (both standard and recessed outlets), the Middle East, New Zealand, North America, and Russia. Here’s my favorite factor about the kit. It has two USB ports for charging everything from your laptop to your phone to your MP3 player. This sold it for me. I am constantly using this feature at home and while traveling.

 

 

Adapter Plug Kit with Dual USB Charger with 2 USB Ports

Adapter Plug Kit with Dual USB Charger with 2 USB Ports

 

 

 

***All products were sponsored by Lewis N. Clark for testing and review. All opinions are as always, those of my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Viking Cruises, Photo of the Day #1

 

As I barrel towards the sunset, my body reminds me daily of the aging process I am facing head on. There are days I spring out of bed (just kidding, I don’t think that has actually transpired in decades!) and hit the ground running (LOL, not in twenty years have I run, except my cardiac stress test every three years). Other days it is hard to find the floor as I roll out of the bed.

 

 

The older I get, the more I treasure the little things in life, like two days ago when our youngest son Chris was in town and decided to stop by to ask me to go to lunch. Of course I had already eaten (just my luck) and had an appointment I couldn’t miss, so we only got to see each other for a few minutes and he left. That made my day and put me on cloud nine (translation from Texan, “very happy”). The good news is he was able to eat with his Mother and see her briefly before going back to Dallas.

 

Viking Longship Modi

Viking Longship Modi

 

My first photo is a picture of the Longship Modi, the wonderful accommodation on our first cruise with Viking. This photo shows a portion of the famous Széchenyi Chain Bridge in Budapest, Hungary, directly behind the longship. The Modi was built recently and we thought it was grand 5-star lodging. Our stateroom was very comfortable and actually larger than I expected, with a nice balcony to drink morning coffee on. We would take another cruise in a heart beat.

 

There is a saying “Some days you eat the bear and some days the bear eats you”! I love this for some odd reason and it’s my perspective on life. The other day, with seeing my son, I definitely “ate the bear”! After Chris left I started thinking of ways to write more, as some of you may or may  not know, writing doesn’t always pour out of your brain. There are days it flows smoothly, days it’s like a raging river pouring out by the gallon and days where no matter how hard you put forth the effort, nothing comes out and it’s like you have two blocks of concrete tied to your feet and being pushed overboard. Basically no matter how hard you try or what amount of effort you put forth, nothing comes out!

 

 

The third scenario has been commonplace recently. Then I thought about a series I had earlier in my career, called “Photo of the Day #???” This series motivated me to write more often and put forth effort with writing, centered around the photo I chose for the day. I checked back and I was at Photo of the Day #79. Then I thought about the hundreds, maybe thousands of photos I took on our Viking River Cruise in December. Why not do a feature series of the various photos I took in Europe? So I am starting a new series as of today with hopefully a photo daily, maybe more than one and if I get tied up with the concrete blocks I may miss a day or two.

 

 

Most days the verbiage will be less than today, but the photos will be original. I realize how fortunate Kim and I were and there are some readers that will never get the opportunity to take a trip with Viking River Cruises. Hopefully by sharing photos it will give you a minute taste of river cruises. Consequently, I am sharing photos with you from our experience and I sincerely hope you enjoy! Thank you and be kind to each other!

 

 

 

 

***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!

Lewis N Clark Travel Gear Review

Several months ago Lewis N. Clark, a travel accessory company, asked me to try out and review four products. Since I rarely do reviews I decided to really put these items to use and give them a good workout to determine their quality and value. They have accompanied me to Asia, Europe and two of the items I use daily. I am satisfied they have all been put through a sufficient testing period.

 

Lewis N. Clark Featherlight Packing Cubes

Lewis N. Clark Featherlight Packing Cubes

 

The first item is the Featherlight Packing Cubes. Every trip I have made abroad I have stuffed these three cubes with my socks (small cube), my underwear (medium cube) and my undershirts (large cube). This meant, as you can see above, they were loaded with as many items or changes, as I could pack. I am not one who likes to pay exorbitant prices to have my laundry done. I also dislike washing my undies in the sink, unless there is no other choice. I like that the cube can be transferred from your luggage to the dresser, with hardly any effort.

 

 

In the past year I traveled to the Yokohama and Tokyo area of Japan; Barcelona, Costa Brava, Girona and Seville in Spain; Istanbul Turkey; Rimini, Sicily, the Aeolian Islands and Milan in Italy; London England; Budapest Hungary; Bratislava Slovakia; Vienna, Durnstein, Linz, Melk and Salzburg Austria, Passau Germany and Prague in the Czech Republic. This is over 20 cities around the world and not once did the cubes present any issues. The zippers are all in very good working order. The mesh is still in one piece on all three cubes and holding my underwear in. One can use the cubes for anything you need to stay organized while traveling. I highly recommend the Packing Cubes and they have helped me stay efficient with packing, on all my travels.

 

Lewis N. Clark 2-in-1 Neck/Lumbar Pillow

Lewis N. Clark 2-in-1 Neck/Lumbar Pillow

 

The second item is a 2-in1 Neck/Lumbar Pillow. Pardon my face in the photo above, but I think I was tired and falling asleep. This product works very well and I have used it on every plane trip I have taken since acquiring the items to test. It is very comfortable and meshes well around your neck to any position you need. The pillow has many uses. In addition to the obvious neck rest, it can be unzipped, turned inside out and rolled into a lumbar support, which works very well. This comes from an individual with five back surgeries. The last option is to turn it inside out and it turns into a pillow. So if you are in need of any three options I recommend the Neck/Lumbar pillow. It is still in top notch condition after at least eighteen flights.

 

Lewis N. Clark Hanging Toiletry Kit

Lewis N. Clark Hanging Toiletry Kit

 

If any of the items have been over tested, it is surely my hanging toiletry kit. I have used this everyday since I received it and everything is still in great working order. I also have maxed out the supplies in my toiletry kit and it holds up to stretching, heavy weight and sharp items. I carry everything I could use in this kit and the ability to hang it on a towel rod is fantastic. No counter space needed. I carry my aerosol shaving cream, my after shave, bath soap and all sorts of grooming needs, plus my toothbrush and toothpaste. Everything I need can fit in the kit including my mouthwash, shampoo and conditioner. All the clasps, zippers and casings are in good working order and I use it daily. It is a very durable item.

 

Lewis N. Clark RFID Tri-Fold Wallet

Lewis N. Clark RFID Tri-Fold Wallet

 

My last item is the RFID Tri-Fold Wallet. Some men like a dual fold, but for some reason I have always carried a tri-fold. It holds all the credit cards, ID’s and information a person needs. Trust me I carry a large amount of domestic and International cards and I have two medical alert cards inside the cash area, just in case. As you can see above it has 6 credit/business card slots, 2 full-sized bill sections and and ID window, perfect for my business card. It is made from Lambskin and blocks unauthorized scanning of RFID chips, which we use more and more these days! Very helpful in protecting the theft of your identification, from the despicable individuals that thrive on stealing other people’s identities!

 

Overall I was more than satisfied with all four items and would recommend them to anyone in the market for these items. Lewis N. Clark is obviously a very quality company and stands behind its products. I would like to thank Mary Chong, of The Calculated Traveller, for sending Lewis N. Clark in my direction. I am now going  to look into more of their products as the need arises and I recommend you do also.

 

 

 

 

 

 

***All products were sponsored by Lewis N. Clark for testing and review. All opinions are as always, those of my own.

Viking River Cruises, Vienna

As a young man growing up, I learned to love music at an early age. My father was a journalist and reviewed musical acts that came to our small town of Arlington Texas. My first concert was at the age of eleven, when we saw Louis Armstrong. My father favored Jazz and when he was sent an autographed photo of Lionel Hampton and me (I got the opportunity when I met him at The Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center), my father was in heaven.

 

Home of the Vienna Boys Choir, This plaque and Ribbons Designates a National Historical Marker

Home of the Vienna Boys Choir, This plaque and Ribbons Designates a National Historical Marker in Austria. It was located inside the Hofburg Palace.

 

In my early teens I heard classical music emanate from my father’s record player and I was hooked immediately. I listened to Bach, Brahms, Vivaldi, Wagner, Chopin, Strauss, Beethoven and Mozart from an early age. Through the years I learned how much classical music was composed or finalized in Vienna, Austria and I vowed, if ever given the chance, I would visit Vienna. When I noticed that the Danube Waltz Cruise from Viking River Cruises passed through Vienna, there was no doubt which cruise we would take.

 

Vienna Residence Orchestra, Viennese Palace

Vienna Residence Orchestra,  Palais Auersperg, Viennese Palace

 

While in Budapest, we mentioned we were interested in attending the Classical concert in the Viennese Palace the evening we arrived in Vienna. Thank goodness, as the available tickets were limited and some of our new “Viking” friends warned us not to wait and to purchase our tickets quickly . I would advise you purchase your tickets as soon as you are settled in for your cruise. Otherwise you take the chance of not witnessing an enchanting and memorable evening performance. It was an “Optional Excursion”, but well worth the nominal cost.

 

Karlsplatz Stadtbahn Station, former station of the Viennese Stadtbahn, Designed by Otto Wagner

Karlsplatz Station, formerly of the Viennese Stadtbahn, Designed by Otto Wagner

 

We arrived in the port of Vienna around 6:00 AM. Given we had a full day ahead of us, we ate breakfast early and prepared for our Shore Excursion: “Vienna City Tour”. We started by touring the Ringstrasse by bus. This is a large circular boulevard, which replaced the city walls built in the 13th century around the city for protection. Sometime in 1857 a decision was made to convert the wall into a boulevard intended to showcase the the grandeur and glory of the Habsburg Empire. The idea originated with Napolean III in Paris. As a consequence, all the nobility and plutocracy hurried and built garish and ornate structures along the boulevard, each trying to outdo the other. This resulted in a plethora of outstanding and opulent properties that remain gorgeous to this day.

 

Naturhistorisches Museum Vienna, Museum of Natural History

Naturhistorisches Museum Vienna, Museum of Natural History

 

Austrian Parliament Building

Austrian Parliament Building

 

I personally love architecture and the examples scattered along the Ringstrasse throughout the city, at times took my breath away. Some of the essence of this period’s architecture can be seen in the Vienna State Opera, Academy of Fine Arts, Palace of Justice and the Austrian Parliament Building. We concluded the bus tour and were dropped at the Habsburg Palace, a huge complex used primarily as the residence and office of the President of Austria. It is one of the most gorgeous complexes I have ever seen. It also houses the world famous beautiful Lipazzan horses. If you are fortunate, you might visit during a training session. They were resting during our visit.

 

Heldenplatz in front of the Hofburg Palace, most notably Adolf Hitler's ceremonial announcement of the Austrian Anschluss to Nazi Germany on 15 March 1938.

Heldenplatz in front of the Hofburg Palace, most notably remembered for Adolf Hitler’s ceremonial announcement of the Austrian Anschluss, to Nazi Germany on 15 March 1938. It was held on these steps.

 

As we began the walking tour we entered the massive, historical and decorative complex of the Hofburg Palace. I couldn’t take enough photos fast enough. One could spend an entire day enjoying the art, the various buildings and courtyards. The construction began in the thirteenth century  and the palace has housed some of the most powerful people in European and Austrian history.

 

A gate from the 19th wing of the Hofburg Palace, to the complex center.

A gate from the 19th wing of the Hofburg Palace, to the complex center.

 

The complex was started in the 13th century when the Swiss Wing was constructed. Through the centuries each potentate of the Austrian-Hungarian empire attempted to outdo the prior monarch with larger and more ornate buildings and trim. Included are statues dedicated to themselves in many cases and again each new statue reflected a larger persona. In the 19th and 20th centuries the Festsaal – Festival Hall Wing, St. Michael’s Wing, Neue Burg Wing, Corps de Logis and the Palm House or Butterfly House were added, making it the second largest former palace complex behind only the Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest Romania and slightly larger than the Louvre Palace in Paris.

 

A Vienna taxi for hire.

A Vienna taxi for hire.

 

As we exited the Hofburg Palace and continued our walking tour we strolled down a street with shops like Gucci, Cartier, Versace, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, etc. I thought we were back on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Thank goodness there wasn’t time to shop! We continued through the Historic Center of Vienna and were given time to grab a cup of Viennese coffee and a strudel. We chose a location near to us and turned out to be a wonderful break. Aida’s is a chain in Vienna and I personally highly recommend you give it a try, if you visit Vienna.

 

Aida is a coffee house chain in Vienna with wonderful Viennese coffees and pastries. Try the Strudel, we did!

Aida is a coffee house chain in Vienna with wonderful Viennese coffees and pastries. Try the Strudel, we did!

 

After the quick coffee, we had time to either explore St. Stephens Cathedral or take a quick walk through the small Christmas Market next to the Cathedral. We obviously opted for the Christmas Markets, but I did catch a glimpse of the Cathedral and took a photo for posterity. The roof tiles are gorgeous and the exterior is amazing. On my next visit to Vienna I will definitely enter and photograph the Cathedral. I love design and architecture of European Cathedrals. One of my favorite objects to photograph.

 

St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna

St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna

 

The last portion of the tour was basically to let us know where the Christmas Markets were. We spent a few minutes scanning the booths and registering our coordinates in the city. After the morning tour we returned to the ship for lunch. The afternoon gave us options to come back to the Christmas Markets, tour the Farmers’ Market with Chef de Cuisine Martin, or participate in an Optional Excursion: Schonbrunn Palace. Guess which one we chose? I would venture to say that most of you would say the Farmers’ Market or the Schonbrunn Palace. You would be incorrect. There were more and different wooden laser spoons waiting and we needed to add to Kim’s collection, so we came back to the Christmas Market. After all Vienna is one of the best Christmas Markets in Europe and had more booths than we could see.

 

 

 

Our new friends from the Boston area, Gail and Richard Douglas opted for the Schonbrunn Palace and once again Gail came through with a wonderful photograph for my blog. Thank you kindly young lady for your continual contributions.

 

Schonbrunn Palace, Photographed by Gail Douglas

Schonbrunn Palace, Photographed by Gail Douglas

 

Additionally we had the Optional Excursion: Classical Concert that night and it gave us more flexibility. Interpretation: we could get back to the ship, eat our early seating dinner and have sufficient time to dress for the concert and be mesmerized by one of the world’s best chamber orchestras, Wiener Residenzorchester. I was super excited to actually hear Mozart and Strauss in a venue, in Vienna with all the history associated with this city. The sculptures in the Palais Auersperg were extraordinary, as witnessed below.  Highlights of the concert for me were the Ouverture “Le Nozze di Figaro” (Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro” by W.A. Mozart and The Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss.

 

A Sculpture in the Palais Auersperg

A Sculpture in the Palais Auersperg

 

We left the concert after a long day fully energized by the Concertos and Arias of Mozart and Strauss. What I didn’t realize ahead of time was that we would have brief ballet and opera experiences at the concert. If you remember the photo at the beginning of the stage, you wouldn’t really think any ballet act could perform. Not only did were we entertained with excellent ballet, but a Pas de deux occurred with leaps, etc. I feared for the dancers safety at times, but they performed with nary an incident. We went back to the ship and turned in headed to our next ports in Austria, satisfied that we had tasted Vienna and would have exquisite memories of this grand city, until we returned again.

 

 

 

 

 

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

Viking River Cruises, Bratislava

We sailed from Budapest on our Viking River Cruise around 9:00 PM on December 6th. Passengers were invited to view the nightlights of Budapest as we sailed to Bratislava, but we were worn out and frankly it was a little too cold for two Texans to stand on the sun deck of the Viking Longship Modi. So we decided rest was the order of the day and went to sleep in our home for the next week, our stateroom. I sometimes wake in the middle of the night, but this particular night I slept like a baby and never got up, if memory serves me right. I am sure many will tell you that might be debatable.

 

 

 

The next morning we arose early rested and watching the Slovakian countryside roll by. My how that simple venue can be calming and relaxing. As we weren’t to arrive until 2:00 PM in Bratislava, we took our time with breakfast. Afterwards the staff had several options available. One was mandatory, the safety drill at 10:00 AM. Believe me when I tell you they ensure you attend. I was amazed that we could all assemble in such a rapid manner, but it went off as intended and all passengers were accounted for. It was kind of nice to have the cabin steward lay our life-vests out on our beds prior to the safety drill.

 

The staff also offered a tour of the Wheelhouse, a Cooking Demonstration with fantastic cookies and finished the morning with a presentation on coffee, as we were headed to Vienna right after Bratislava. The pastry chef and head chef Martin Carter, gave a wonderful lesson on preparing the cookies, handed out recipes and of course a huge sampling of each of the four cookies. Then we had lunch. Program Director Barry Summers then gave the presentation on coffee, that shared the history of this precious beverage since the beginning of time. It was very educational for this avid coffee drinker.

 

Ruins of War

 

Slovakia has only been a country for twenty three years, after Czechoslavakia dissolved. It has a population of just a little over five million people and Bratislava is the largest city and the capitol. Slovakia then joined the European Union in 2004 and the Eurozone January of 2009. Slovakia is also a member of NATO, the United Nations and is in the Schengen area of Europe. As it is not really a wealthy nation, buildings like this remain and are scattered across the country still, leftover from World War II.

 

Viking Guide for the Shore Excursion

       Viking Guide for the Shore Excursion.  Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

The “Shore Excursion” was scheduled for 2:00 PM and included a bus tour of certain areas along with a walking tour of downtown, the Opera House and the Christmas Markets. Our daily briefing wasn’t until 6:45 PM, so we had plenty of time to see Bratislava on foot and of course the Christmas Markets were a priority!  The photo above clearly illustrates the way all the Viking Tour Guides dress in winter, with the infamous “lollipop” logo of Viking, held high for all to see. Each passenger is given their own headset and you follow at your own pace. Just don’t lose sight of your group’s lollipop!

 

Tunnel Example That Closes at Night. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Tunnel Example That Closes at Night.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

This photo was taken downtown and the buildings are all constructed in an adjoining manner. Foot traffic during the day traverses back and forth through these tunnels, but as there is a small crime issue late at night, they shut the rod iron gates visible at the entrance to ward off criminal elements.  Old Town in which most of the walking tour transpired was refurbished and had excellent architecture in my humble opinion. I was very surprised at the detail and trim.

 

 

Street Art Example.  Photography by Gail Douglas

Street Art Example.
Photography by Gail Douglas

 

One of the new symbols of Bratislava is this fella Cumil, he gives you an insight into the Slovak humor. This photo was taken and supplied by Gail Douglas, as stated. Thank you kindly young lady! She and her great husband Richard, in the yellow jacket above, became friends of ours and we ate many meals with them. We bonded immediately. Great sense of humor and we now exchange emails. Hope to cruise with them again soon!

 

Hanging Citrus Scent Ornaments. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Hanging Citrus Scent Ornaments.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

Bratislava had many booths filled with hanging potpourri items. These were particularly favorable to me, with the various citrus scents, especially lime. It reminded me of a cologne I used to wear back in the 70’s and it is still produced today I discovered. It’s name is Royall Lyme, produced and manufactured in the USA by Brooks Brothers, with permission from Royall Lyme (Bermuda), Hamilton Bermuda. I always loved the lime scent!

 

Blown Glass Booth. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Blown Glass Booth.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

This lady’s booth was  filled with glass products made in Slovakia. Kim lost her red heart necklace when we went through security in London, so I purchased her another red heart from this lady. She was very pleasant and helpful, although I doubt she understood my story exactly.

 

Kim's Spoon Collection. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Kim’s Spoon Collection.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

If  you followed our escapades, you know how the wooden spoons were popular with Kim and at most of the Christmas Markets we visited. If you didn’t, then take a good look at these examples where winter objects were laser burned into the spoons. Even I had to acknowledge how cute they were.

 

 

We were looking at a chocolate booth in the Bratislava Christmas Markets and out of nowhere I noticed a lady looking over my shoulder and right next to me. It was scary. I yelled at her to back away from me. She casually smiled and walked away. I wouldn’t have been this aware normally and without Viking’s persistent warnings. From that moment on I started carrying all my valuables inside my coat in zippered pockets. I have to truly thank Viking for saving me from losing my wallet, passport and money clip. Without their consistent emphasis, I am positive they would all be in this lady’s possession now. Be aware, it is not fiction, it really happens.

 

Wood Nativity Scene. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Wood Nativity Scene.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

As we walked the length of the Bratislava Christmas Markets, we came upon this nativity scene. It was beautifully carved from wood and grabbed my attention. I was taken back by the features and detail involved, with all the figures. It really was a beautiful sight.

 

Neon Running Man. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Neon Running Man.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

We turned around from the nativity scene and ice rink to see this neon running man series of lights. Whoever made it has a great mind and really has creative instincts. Each man would light up separately and timed to set aglow in consecutive order. It truly looked like the neon man was running every time they set him in motion. After several minutes, they turned all the neon men on a the same time and it was brilliant.

 

 

Coca Cola Has Names All Over the World. Photography by Nomadic Texan

Coca Cola Has Names All Over the World.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

 

On our way back to the ship, Kim and I decided to enter a local grocery store and see the differences. Slovakia has a genuine taste for fish. At the butcher area half the case was fish. It was fun trying to figure out what some of  the products were. It was also very evident, that some things are the same the world over. We were at the back of the store and came across the soda area. It was a little strange for us to see Slovakian names on Coca-Cola bottles, but really no surprise. Unfortunately my favorite, the “Selfie Queen” bottle, wasn’t in this photograph.

 

A Well Known Embassy. Photography by Nomadic Texan

A Well Known Embassy.
Photography by Nomadic Texan

 

Before we arrived at the river we ran across this sign at their embassy and I just had take a photo of this crest. I thought it was appropriate, given how famous this microstate on France’s Mediterranean coastline is. Its major district is Monte Carlo and it’s very well known for its Gran Prix motor race, casinos and its fabulous nightlife. We boarded our ship, ate a wonderful dinner and listened to the Bratislava Men’s choir sing Christmas Carols in Slovakian and English both. An excellent end to a wonderful day. We went to our room and knew we would wake up in Vienna, a city I had yearned to see since I first began traveling!

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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.

 

A European River Tour With a Difference: Punting in Cambridge

Cambridge is famous across the globe for its elite University, that is ranked in the top three in the entire world. But like any hotbed for scholars the area in steeped in history and has many rural delights. The city also has a rich arts scene with many live music venues and museums open around the clock for locals and tourists to visit.

 

However, away from the more urban parts of the city there is an abundance of countryside that populates the outer regions of Cambridge. The River Cam became a focal point for industries and even today, local’s use it as an alternative way to travel and admire the city. One of which ways is via a boat called a punt.

 

A punt is basically a “flat-bottomed boat with a square cut bow,” and they were originally designed for use in small rivers or to operate in shallow waters. They are similar to gondolas, but punts are maneuvered using a pole rather than an oar.

 

Punting in Cambridge

Punting in Cambridge

 

Because of their design features and due to them being easy to maintain many tour companies in Cambridge now sell luxury punting packages to visitors. Running along the River Cam and out as far as the Ely on the Great Ouse package companies run trips throughout the days and weekends for visitors especially during the summer months.

 

Summer Punting

Summer Punting

 

Visit Cambridge highly recommends Camboats as it also offers narrowboat tours which take tourists past many of the city’s riverside pubs, colleges, museums, the Kings College Chapel, University Real Tennis Club and much of the wildlife that inhabits the rivers and surrounding fields. The tours provide insight into the history of the city as well as all the notable landmarks that tourists pass while seated in the punts.

 

Punts have also become popular additions to bachelor and bachelorette parties recently. However, these are equally as popular for family days out as the River Cam is a wonderful and tranquil setting in the summer months.

 

Hen Party Punting

Hen Party Punting

 

There’s also the prospect of seeing the University’s famous rowing team practicing on the river. Every year the University competes against its biggest rival, Oxford University in the annual Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. The race happens in April and is attended by some of the Royal Family. It’s televised on UK television and is attended by thousands in person.

 

 

Travel Information:
For foreign tourists travelling to Cambridge for the first time, there are a number of ways to reach the city upon arriving in the UK. Firstly, there are many train routes available to travellers from all of the major airports. However, expect to change multiple times before finally getting to your desired destination. Secondly, there are buses routes that connect London to Cambridge, but be warned these trips can be arduous due to the high level of traffic that London and the outskirts of the city has to contend with on a daily basis.

 

 

Finally, and probably the most preferred option of all, is by car or cab. With airports like Gatwick only being 50 miles away from London and Heathrow approximately 28 miles away, it means that Cambridge is accessible in less than two hours from both airports. The M11 runs directly from London to Cambridge and although it gets busy at times it is a pretty stress-free road for travellers to drive on.

 

***Written by Thomas Hill

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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