THE BRITISH ISLES with a French Connection

THE BRITISH ISLES with a French Connection

Author: vagabondginger (More Trip Reviews by vagabondginger )
Date of Trip: June 2016

THE BRITISH ISLES with a French Connection by vagabondginger June 2016

As an Independent Traveler I relish putting together my own personal itineraries and the research and planning takes almost as much time as the trip itself. Afterwards I find writing my travel stories makes it so much more memorable than just photos. Over the years I have been to Europe many times so on this trip I chose places I had not visited before. To start off with I was focusing on the Normandy/Brittany area of Northern France, The Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey, The Isle of Man, Wales and Cornwall, England.

As a budget traveler I choose to backpack, stay in hostels or cheap hotels within the city centre and use public transport. To start this trip off I flew the no-frills WOW Airlines from Boston to Reykjavik and immediately on to Paris. Summer airfares can be a killer so it got me to Europe very cheaply. I stayed at St Christopher’s Inn Hostel by Gare du Nord and with the free breakfast and discounts at Belushi’s Bar downstairs it was a real money saver for such an expensive city.

Because the French train strike was happening and so few trains were running, being on the RER B rail link from the airport to Gare du Nord was like being on the Tokyo subway in rush hour. All the cars were so crammed without an inch to move. It had been 20 years since I was last in Paris and I enjoyed a whole day walking once again to the major sites of Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Moulin Rouge and Sacre Coeur. It all still seemed so familiar. However, I was shocked by the flooding of the Seine River as all the floating restaurants were cut off and no boats were out. The next morning I took the hostel shuttle to Versailles. The line was already formed to buy the ticket and then another line to get in. The inside of the Palace was so crowded I mainly fought my way thru the rooms and once I saw the Hall of Mirrors I exited and enjoyed wandering around the fountains and gardens outside. Several years ago I visited Peterhof Palace in St Petersburg, Russia which was fashioned after the Palace of Versailles and with fewer visitors I enjoyed it so much more. As I was leaving to get the shuttle back to the hostel, the lines were now ridiculously crazy long as tourism is really heavy in the summer months.

So on Day 3 when I arrived at the train station I found that due to the strike my 10am to Bayeux was delayed 2 hours. When I did arrive there I walked to the Premiere Classe Hotel I had booked and then walked around the beautiful town that was dominated by a huge Cathedral. I had been booked to go on an afternoon tour to the Normandy Beaches, but because of the train delay I arrived too late. Bayeux Shuttle gave me a refund and I had them call me a taxi so I could go on my own for only 15 Euros more. My driver did not speak English but he took me to Omaha Beach and allowed me to wander around a couple of hours. I was very moved by the American Cemetery with the white crosses of 9,367 military dead including Teddy Roosevelt’s son. At the World War II Memorial & Museum are the names of another 1,557 who could not be found or identified. D Day June 6, 1944 was the largest naval, air and land operation in history as Allied Troops moved into Nazi occupied France.

The next morning I used Bayeux Shuttle to go to Mont St Michel on the border of Normandy & Brittany. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site that I had been wanting to see for years. The 264’ high mound of rock is topped by an impressive stone abbey dating back centuries and stands in the center of of a huge bay appearing like a mirage. Along with Santiago de Compostela in Spain and others, it is a pilgrim’s route going back to when the Kings of England were also Dukes of Normandy. Because crossing the quick sand at low tide was so dangerous and lives were lost, a causeway bridge was built. It is the biggest attraction in France outside Paris and very crowded. Lots & lots of steps to the top, lots of tourist shops at the bottom. There and back we passed thru so many towns that were heavily bombed by the Allies during the war. And seeing the thick hedgerows along the road, it’s a wonder how these troops even made that liberation march to Paris. The town of Bayeux was unscathed during these attacks as there were spies & refugees living there. I was ready for a Liberation beer when I got back. Oui -as the French say “joie de vivre” meaning: Enjoy Life!

The French train strike got me again the next day as my 7:30am to St Malo was cancelled and I could not leave until 2:30pm. So being as I had checked out of the hotel I dropped my backpack at the Bayeux Shuttle office as they did speak English. I set off to visit the famous Tapestry Museum. The colorful detail of this 230 ft long by 20 inch high embroidered piece of art shows 50 scenes of the Battle of Hastings when back in 1066 William the Duke of Normandy conquered England and took the throne. The fact that this piece of work has survived over 900 years is just as amazing. The charming Tapestry Garden Cafe was nearby to relax & read a bit. Finally arriving in St Malo late in the afternoon, I just managed to walk to the Ibis Hotel before it started to rain. I attempted to walk the walled city, but got so wet I turned back and just had dinner and more of the excellent Bordeaux red wine.

In the morning it was still raining so instead of walking to the nearby ferry terminal I took a taxi. I was heading out at 8am to St Helier, Jersey in the English Channel just 19 miles from the coast of France. It was a short trip made even shorter by a 1 hour time difference. I had an exceptionally nice studio apartment room at the Sarum Hotel with a view of the water and walking distance from the marina.

Jersey is 5 miles long and 9 miles wide with a population of about 100,000. Altho it is quite British it also has a distinctive French twist. It is almost 100 miles from England’s coast and is not part of the UK or the EU. Both the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey are known as Crown Dependencies, self governing but defended by the UK government, except of course during World War II when they were cut off from both France and England and were taken over by Nazi Germans. I took the bus to the War Tunnels and spent hours there. It told an exceptional story of that time. After some good fish and chips at Liberation Square I met a few locals at the Cock & Bottle Pub & we raised a glass of beer to the Queen for her birthday celebration. The next days ferry ride 27 miles to Guernsey was an hour long and I walked to the Yacht Inn just across from the Castle and the marina. I was on the top so it was many steep steps up 5 floors, but it had a full English breakfast included and a bar downstairs. This inn dates back to 1854 and was occupied by the Nazi Germans and altho my room was quite sparse, it had a view.

After reading the book “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” I wanted to come here. Altho I knew it was a piece of fiction based on a real situation, I still almost expected to meet some of these characters. I arranged a taxi tour of the island visiting sites from the book and my driver, Mike, was a true local. We had an enjoyable couple of hours as his parents lived here during the occupation, but he too was born after the war. I particularly liked seeing the Little Chapel, a miniature version of Lourdes dating back to 1914. It is the smallest church in the world and holds about 8 people. It is decorated with seashells, pebbles and broken china in a mosaic pattern. Victor Hugo’s house is open for visitors, but I was satisfied with just the drive-by. I was amazed by the flowers growing right out of all the rock walls. The speed limit all over the island is 25-35 mph as it’s lanes and roads are very narrow with high hedgerows that need to be trimmed regularly. Several cruise ships now stop here, but Mike pointed out that the people of Guernsey did not want a movie made from the book due to so many tourists already coming. The island is just half the size of Jersey. There is a rivalry between Jersey and Guernsey including over their cows & the good ice cream. Mike said their cows are better looking.

St Peter’s Port is a lovely town of hanging flower baskets. I stopped for what’s called a “cream” tea, a pot of tea served with scones & strawberry jam & clotted cream to spread on them. Later was a good dinner of moules & frites at the Crow’s Nest overlooking the marina. The next morning I joined a guided tour of the Castle Coronet ending with the noon-day firing of the cannon. Then I just talked with the owner of my hotel for awhile in the bar while enjoying a local Breda beer and a crab sandwich. Late in the day I took an overnight ferry going to Portsmouth, England where I then took a train to Cardiff, Swansea and on to Pembroke, Wales. I walked to the Connaught Guesthouse and truly was made to feel like a guest by Annemarie & Ed. Again, very top floor but a charming single room with the bath one flight down. They recommended taking the Mill Pond walk to see the swans & their baby cygnets on the way to the Waterman Arms Pub. After the long travel day, I was delighted with the walk & a wonderful meal on the patio in the shadow of the huge Pembroke Castle. I was hoping to do more walking of the Wales Coastal Path while I was here, but there was a shutdown of some of the bus lines and it led to a lot of confusion. So instead of wasting a lot of time I just took the bus directly to the town of St David.

The huge cathedral is nestled into a hollow and walking thru the stone arch, it majestically unfolds below, a breath catching view. St David is the patron saint of Wales and founded his monastery here back in the 6th century and his shrine is within this cathedral dating back to 1176. It is another one of the religious pilgrimage sites. The Euro 2016 Football championships were being televised at the Bishop’s Pub with England playing Wales, so I joined a group to drink beer and cheer like a local.

The following day I took a bus to Tenby, Wales, just the most picturesque pretty as a postcard scenic beach town imaginable with lots of cute colorful shops. The high & low tides in all these places are so dramatic. One of the shop owners explained how to pronounce the Welsh name of Wales which is spelled Cymru but pronounced Cumree. The Three Mariners Pub boasted that Prince William spent time there recently. Back in Pembroke that night I wandered into the closest bar to my room and was welcomed like a local. There was darts, football on TV, but mostly it was socializing with everyone joining in the karaoke. The people of Wales are just so friendly and nice. Annemarie even came to the train station the next morning to see me off. The train brought me into Bristol, England & I got on a bus to the HomeStay Hostel in the city centre where I was spending the night. My daughter’s mum-in-law lives in Bristol so she picked me up to take me to The Pony & Trap out in the English countryside for dinner. The narrow roads and high hedgerows and the green, green color never ceased to amaze me. That is what regular rain can do. Bristol is a really cool college city. The hostel room itself was pretty bleak but it had a nice kitchen with a full breakfast in the morning. I was able to walk from the hostel to the main bus station and got an airport bus from there.

I wasn’t able to work out taking the ferry from Dublin or Liverpool to the Isle of Man, so I was flying Easy Jet and I was spending 5 nights there. An airport bus took me to Silvercraig’s Hotel in Douglas right on the seaside promenade. Again I was on the top floor, it had a lift, no breakfast, & no view from my room but a lovely sitting room downstairs looking out to the sea. Strings of lights all along the 2 mile long promenade and the city streets at night turned it into a fairyland. The promenade was such a pretty walk but there were horse drawn trams clip-clopping down the street too. The IOM is 33 miles long and 13 miles wide & has a total population of 100,000. of which Douglas is 30,000 and located on the east coast. This is where the famous TT Race in late May/early June starts and about 50,000 people descend upon the island during that time. It is the most challenging road race event in the world. Motorcycles racing on public streets & roads around the island up to 200 mph doing 6 laps of almost 38 miles each. Since the beginning in 1907 there have been over 200 killed with 5 more this year earlier in June.

So I got outfitted in leathers, helmut & goggles & climbed on a 3 wheeled motorcycle to do just one lap of 37 & 3/4 miles behind my driver, Roy. Now we did not get up to those kind of speeds but there were times I felt like we were going pretty fast at maybe 60 mph. The highest part of the course is over 1,300 ft on Snaefell Mountain. We could see Scotland from there. It was an exciting experience.

Another famous thing on IOM are the railways. My 3 day Explorer card for 30 pounds gave me use of all trains and buses. One day I took the Victorian Steam Railway to the town of Port Erin in the south just 15 1/2 miles away. It still uses it’s original locomotives and carriages and dates back to 1874. Port Erin is a lovely little town and I was told I had to go to see the Sound while there so I took a bus thru Port St Mary and the end of the line was the Calf of Man. The word calf means a small island near a large island and it is a bird sanctuary just off the mainland. In the visitor centre cafe I had another cream tea.

Another day I took the Manx Electric Railway dating back to 1893, it is the oldest in the world and runs 17 1/2 miles. In Laxey I changed over to the Snaefell Mountain Railway dating back to 1895, it is the islands only mountain and we climbed up over 2,000 feet. It only operates from April – Sept. Snaefell actually means Snow Mountain. From the top one can see 7 Kingdoms: England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Heaven, Mann & the Sea. The Isle of Man sits in the middle of the Irish Sea, yet Scotland’s coast (as the seagull flies) is the closest. It is cold and windy and I am grateful for another cream tea in the cafe before heading back down. Laxey has the world’s largest working waterwheel & it’s a can’t miss bright red color in the green countryside. I then continued on the Manx Electric Railway line to the town of Ramsey in the north. The Star of India now anchored in San Diego, CA was built here in 1863. The interesting part of these railways is that they are not just tourist attractions. The locals actually use these trains to go from town to town. Another day I took the bus to Peel, a town on the west side of the island. From the marina there is a causeway to St Patrick’s Isle where I walked around the walls of the Peel Castle, an imposing 11th century fort. Back in Douglas I found a little place on the promenade called Quids Inn Bar. As the name suggests, you have to pay a pound to get in but the beers are very cheap. It was a classic local dive bar to be sure.

This year the Isle of Man became the first entire country to be named as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The Isle of Man is also a Crown Dependency like Jersey &Guernsey so they too are not a part of the UK or EU but the island has a real British feel & their passports state they are British citizens. Like Jersey & Guernsey, they use the UK pound as currency but they also have their own pounds with their country names stamped on them and they cannot be used elsewhere. So I made sure I always changed them out for real UK pounds.

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Day 7: Hunza Valley ( Altit Fort)

Day 7: Hunza Valley ( Altit Fort)

Author: Nawab Tanweer Ahmad (More Trip Reviews by Nawab Tanweer Ahmad)
Date of Trip: September 2015

Date: 21st September 2015

Joining back on Karakorum Highway and crossing the Hunza Bridge our next destination is Altit Fort. Altit Fort is an 1100-year-old Fort built and ruled by then Mir of Hunza in the town of Altit, later they moved to nearby Baltit Fort. Altit means “this side down” and the town is considered to be inhabited by Huns from the Persian Empire around 47 A.D. The fort is built on top of a high cliff and is over 1,000 feet above the Hunza River. The fort is at some 30 minutes’ walk or a 15 minutes’ drive from Karimabad city and is surround by the friendly and courteous population of Altit.

altit fort

Riding up in the mountains we reach the Altit village in about 45 minutes. At the start of the Altit village, there is a small office where you can buy the ticket to enter the Altit Fort. From that point, we were assisted by a well-trained and knowledgeable guide who provide us the complete tour of the Altit Fort. Walking toward the fort there are many local houses and shops where local population is busy in their daily tasks. At the entrance of the fort, there is a workshop run totally by the women of the Altit, where they craft and sell handicraft items made with wood. Outside the workshop is a large garden in front of the fort, that garden is planted with grass, pine trees, peach trees and many other types of trees that constitute the environment of the garden a marvelous spot to sit and enjoy the surroundings. Crossing the garden we entered the fort made of rock, clay, and wood. The fort is well maintained by the Agha Khan Foundation and represents as a museum as well. The guide gives us the tour of every piece of the fort and explains in detail about the history and items present in the fort. The views of Hunza Valley, Karakorum Highway, Hunza River, snow covered mountains and of the other areas seen from the fort is extremely magnificent and breathtaking.

river hunza valley

At Altit Fort there were many local and foreign tourists, in them there was a Japanese lady and she asked us to have a group photo with us. After touring the fort we came back to the garden of the fort, in the garden there is a café that is also run by some really nice local ladies.

After today’s long and marvelous tour we return back to Karimabad. On the way back we bought some bakery items from a nearby bakery by the name “Café de Hunza”. It is a well maintained and nice restaurant in the area, serving a variety of cakes, coffee, and other bakery items. Their specialty Walnut Cake is excellent and must to eat. Very nice atmosphere and friendly staff. 

sky hunza valley

One other fascinating thing in Karimabad is the availability of Pure Mineral Water everywhere. When asked from the locals we were told that this water is coming directly from the Ultar Sar Glacier and is distributed all over Karimabad through pipelines and is used as everyday tap water. The water is icy cold and extremely refreshing. We spend our rest of the day roaming around Karimabad before we got back to our room for dinner and the night’s sleep.

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Five Surprising Things to do in Antwerp

Five Surprising Things to do in Antwerp

Author: Abhay Singh
Date of Trip: March 2016

Five Surprising Things to do in Antwerp

One year ago I was on a train to Bikaner from Delhi when I met this guy Kevin and his girlfriend. He was from Antwerp, Belgium and studying at the law college in Berlin. Delhi to Bikaner is a 7-hour journey and since I’m so smart and attractive (okay, I am kidding) we became friends. It started with a debate over the US president elections plus he’s a very interesting guy to talk to. So they both stayed in Bikaner for a couple of days and in that time we connected really well. Ivins was profoundly interested in Indian culture and wanted to try every local dish and go to every historical place. And so we had been in touch for this one year, and last month he sent me an email telling me that he was going back to Antwerp for a week and that he would very much like to have me over while I was on my tour to Europe.

15 days later my flight landed at the Berlin Tegel Airport from where Kevin and I rented a car and drove to Antwerp. It’s was an eight and a half hour drive, with one of the most amazing sights of my life except the rough patch where the construction was going on. I was going to stay at Kevin’s so I didn’t need much money but I had still brought my prepaid forex card from this place called Buyforexonline.com as I got it at a best euro exchange rate, better than anything I got after landing in Europe. I drove the whole time so I dozed off as soon as we got there. From the early morning of the second day till the time I checked in for my flight back Kevin was with me, he showed me the places which are not on Google’s top sites list but are a must visit and told me everything about the rich culture and history of Antwerp.

So folks, here goes a list of five places which you may or may not find on google but give you a great insight of Antwerp. At least I would like to think so!

1. Museum Mayer van den Bergh Josephine Rutherford.
In the course of only a short period during the 1890s, a connoisseur of the fine arts, Fritz Mayer van den Bergh, assembled a remarkable collection of more than 3,000 items. These are now displayed on four floors of a Neo-Gothic house at Lange Gasthuisstraat 19 known as the Museum Mayer van den Bergh. The collection includes some superlative works of art, among them paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Rubens, Jordaens, Bouts, van der Weyden, van Ostade, Lucas Cranach, and Quentin Massys. Also of great interest are the Flemish and French religious statues, the outstanding collection of ivories, and a unique 16th-century Flemish breviary.

2. The Central railway station
The Antwerp railway station has four levels and 14 tracks and is a wonderful mixture of architectural styles. It is also efficient and well laid-out. Antwerpen’s Central Railway Station is unique! It’s the only train station that looks like a cathedral – not so much from the outside but more so from the inside. It gives you an almost religious feeling that life is a journey and that you’d better not miss your train. This place is awarded the world’s fourth greatest train station by American magazine Newsweek and the most beautiful railway station in the world by British-American magazine Mashable.

3. Diamond Museum (Diamantmuseum)
Right outside the Central train station The Diamantmuseum explores all the different aspects of the trade in diamonds, including sections on their extraction, processing, and industrial use. Diamond cutters can be seen at work. There is also a display of cut and uncut diamonds (genuine) together with copies of the most famous stones. Immediately south of the diamond museum lies the triangular Stadspark (City Park), on the site of one of Antwerp’s old defense works. Stocked with a fine range of plants, the park is attractively laid out with an ornamental lake, footpaths, and several monuments.
It is located in the Diamond Quarter and consists of several square blocks covering an area of one mile, over 12000 Gemcutters and polishers work within the district.80% of the World’s rough diamonds pass through this area every year, making it the largest diamond center in the World. There are 380 workshops that serve 1500 companies with 3500 brokers and merchants. The district is dominated by Jewish and Indian dealers, known as diamantaires.

4. The Cathedral of Our Lady (Onze Lieve Vrouwkathedraal), is Belgium’s largest Gothic church.
The Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal or Cathedral of our lady with its 123 meters high tower still is the highest building in downtown Antwerp. Construction of this huge church started in 1352 and completion of the first stage took 200 years; even today the works on the Gothic style church are not finalized. Work on the interior began in 1965, starting with the nave where repairs were completed in 1983. The church has suffered serious damage on a number of occasions over the years, depriving it of many of its most precious works of art. First came a fire in 1533, then despoliation at the hands of dissident iconoclasts in 1566, Calvinists in 1581, and French Republican troops in 1794 and 1800. The finest of the remaining works of art are displayed in the nave and aisles as well as in the cathedral treasury

5. The Royal Museum of Fine Art
The nucleus of the collection inside the Royal Museum of Fine Art belonged originally to the Lucas Guild of Painters and Sculptors, founded in 1442. Following the winding up of the guild in 1773, the works of art accumulated over the years passed into the possession of the Academy of Fine Arts. The ground floor is largely devoted to 19th- and 20th-century paintings and sculpture, some 1,500 items in all, providing, among other things, an excellent overview of the development of the plastic arts in Belgium since 1830. The exhibition of Old Masters on the first floor comprises more than 1,000 works, mostly from the Flemish and Dutch schools. Note that the museum is undergoing renovation until 2018. Check the website for details on exhibitions of the museum’s collection at other locations in and around Antwerp.

Apart from these five places, there are a lot of other points of interests in the city which you’ll easily find on Google. After the historical places you visit try the eco Café Haute Friture in the Zuid Quarter for the best frites you’ll ever have, choose from more than 100 samples of incredible Belgian beer at Paters Vaetje, check out the famous ‘Vrijdagse Markt’ which is organized every Friday morning and explore the Grote Markt and Stadhuis at the heart of the old city of Antwerp where you’ll find an impressive array of former guild houses and the current city hall also the beautiful renaissance building has UNESCO heritage.

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Seniors, tour Peru while you still can!

Seniors, tour Peru while you still can!

Author: Dr Alex Cullison
Date of Trip: September 2016

We just completed a 13 day trip to Peru (September 2016). The trip took us to Lima, Cuzco, Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and Iquitos. At Iquitos, we took a 4 day Amazon cruise on the Delfin II.

machu picchu

Planning Notes for Peru /Amazon Trip

• Identifying where you want to go in Peru and what cruise company to use for a trip down the Amazon
• Identify tours related to what you want to see – how long a trip?
• Nazca lines – plane tour – not recommended due to safety issues. Poorly maintained planes tend to crash.
• A tour company in Peru – who can you trust? Paid with check to avoid 3% credit card sur charge.
• Money / cost? We spend about $7,000 each, but we took private tours and a cruise.
• Flight arrangement – direct flight to Peru – no issues with visa, but if you stop and change planes anywhere else in South America, Visa required
• Shots – Yellow Fever and typhoid – $300 each person at health department – not covered by insurance company
• Malaria pills – Malarone, only needed if you are going on the Amazon River. Two pills before the Amazon, pills during the Amazon, and six days after the Amazon. Pill cost varies DRAMATICALLY from pharmacy to pharmacy – compare prices before you submit your prescription! Walmart pharmacy was the least expensive in Fairfax, VA. (prices vary from $1.50 a pill to $5+ a pill).
• Get a shot card
• Make a copy of the main page of your passport, in color, and laminate it. Carry it with you for daily trips. Maybe hang it over your neck with a lanyard?
• Biggest problem in Peru is with pick pockets. Carry money in front pocket. (we experienced no problems though)
• Wear tropical weight cotton clothes – long pants and long sleeve shirts, in the Amazon (because of mosquitos) Clothes are very cheap in Peru. Pack light, buy there!
• Buy Picaridin mosquito spray 20%. It is as effective at DEET, but isn’t greasy and doesn’t stink or stain clothes.
• Don’t drink tap water. Do buy drinks with ice. Brush your teeth with bottle water. Be careful of most all uncooked foods. Remove skin from fruit and rinse with bottle water. Be wary of bread products unless baked on the premises.
• When in Rome, eat as the Romans do. If you find a restaurant in Peru that offers all those Western foods that North Americans eat, there is no telling how long it has languished in a freezer waiting for some Yankee to order it. Check out what the locals are eating and order that. May be not exactly what you wanted, but it most likely will be fresh. Tourists typically don’t go to Peru/Amazon for the food. Be prepared for a big surprise. Peruvian food (fusion with other types of food) was outstanding! Oh, they eat guinea pig (cuy).

magic water park lima

In Lima, we stayed at a hotel in Miraflores (Casa Andina Private Collection). We toured the city (museums, parks, churches, etc) and the local ruins. Notable was the Magic Water Park with 12 beautiful fountains. At night there is a laser light show that was spectacular!

At Cuzco we visited the Sacred Valley, many more ruins and temples, took a city tour, and much more. Cuzco has the highest altitude and takes getting used to. (Even higher than Machu Picchu) Coco leaves, coco leaf tea and candy can help with altitude sickness. Drink plenty of water and don’t eat heavy meals. Oh, don’t bring coco leaves back to the US. It is frowned upon.

machu picchu

Most people take the train to Machu Picchu. It is a beautiful ride. Machu Picchu didn’t see that many tourists until 2007, when it was declared a man-made wonder of the world. Now millions of tourists visit every year. There is no accommodation for those with any health challenge. Hopefully the weather will be nice for you. We had perfect weather! The views were amazing.

We then ventured to Iquitos, where we drove to our river boat, the Delfin II. For four days we sailed the Amazon, went on many interesting and exciting excursions, and ate gourmet food every day.

Rainforest Cruises planned our trip for us. Jeremy was our booking agent. This is a reliable, professional, and trustworthy travel agency.

At trip end, no one got sick or hurt. No bad experiences. A vacation like this changes you though. Seeing the history, the people, and a new country is life changing! If nothing else, you will never look at a guinea pig the same again!

amazon river boat

We will try to post a few of the best pictures from our trip. Here are some tips, factoids, and last thoughts about our vacation to Peru.

Bring binoculars
We never saw any locals smoking cigarettes.
No one tried to sell us drugs.
No welfare in Peru – work or don’t eat.
Toilet tissue goes into trash receptacle – not flushed down toilet
Prostitution is legal for you “buy-sexuals.”
Better food than expected.
Economic classes are defined “A” the richest, to “E” the poorest
The Peruvian people love to party and celebrate – anything!
Avoid rainy season – mosquitoes and hard to climb
Amazon not “teaming” with wildlife like we expected
They have casinos – mostly slots
We felt safe. They have special tourist police looking out for you
Female cops views as most honest, strict, and professional
Inca artisans satire the Spanish (subtly) in their art
Lots of earth tremors. Earthquakes every 300 years
Lots of parades and fireworks – they like to celebrate!
Children live with parents for a LONG time
Our tour guide in Lima made $300 a month
Peruvian people tend to be short, so you can see over the crowds 🙂
A lot of men wear leggings
They drive modern cars. Crazy driving but not as bad as Cairo.
Street vendors like to negotiate
A good place to by Alpaca clothes. I never saw locals wearing Alpaca though?

alpaca

If you have any questions, feel free to ask! Happy trails!

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The British Isles with a French Connection

The British Isles with a French Connection

Author: vagabondginger (More Trip Reviews by vagabondginger)
Date of Trip: June 2016

THE BRITISH ISLES with a French Connection by vagabondginger June 2016
As an Independent Traveler I relish putting together my own personal itineraries and the research and planning takes almost as much time as the trip itself. Afterwards I find writing my travel stories makes it so much more memorable than just photos. Over the years I have been to Europe many times so on this trip I chose places I had not visited before. To start off with I was focusing on the Normandy/Brittany area of Northern France, The Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey, The Isle of Man, Wales and Cornwall, England.
As a budget traveler I choose to backpack, stay in hostels or cheap hotels within the city centre and use public transport. To start this trip off I flew the no-frills WOW Airlines from Boston to Reykjavik and immediately on to Paris. Summer airfares can be a killer so it got me to Europe very cheaply. I stayed at St Christopher’s Inn Hostel by Gare du Nord and with the free breakfast and discounts at Belushi’s Bar downstairs it was a real money saver for such an expensive city.
Because the French train strike was happening and so few trains were running, being on the RER B rail link from the airport to Gare du Nord was like being on the Tokyo subway in rush hour. All the cars were so crammed without an inch to move.
It had been 20 years since I was last in Paris and I enjoyed a whole day walking once again to the major sites of Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Moulin Rouge and Sacre Coeur. It all still seemed so familiar. However, I was shocked by the flooding of the Seine River as all the floating restaurants were cut off and no boats were out. The next morning I took the hostel shuttle to Versailles. The line was already formed to buy the ticket and then another line to get in. The inside of the Palace was so crowded I mainly fought my way thru the rooms and once I saw the Hall of Mirrors I exited and enjoyed wandering around the fountains and gardens outside. Several years ago I visited Peterhof Palace in St Petersburg, Russia which was fashioned after the Palace of Versailles and with fewer visitors I enjoyed it so much more. As I was leaving to get the shuttle back to the hostel, the lines were now ridiculously crazy long as tourism is really heavy in the summer months.
So on Day 3 when I arrived at the train station I found that due to the strike my 10am to Bayeux was delayed 2 hours. When I did arrive there I walked to the Premiere Classe Hotel I had booked and then walked around the beautiful town that was dominated by a huge Cathedral. I had been booked to go on an afternoon tour to the Normandy Beaches, but because of the train delay I arrived too late. Bayeux Shuttle gave me a refund and I had them call me a taxi so I could go on my own for only 15 Euros more. My driver did not speak English but he took me to Omaha Beach and allowed me to wander around a couple of hours. I was very moved by the American Cemetery with the white crosses of 9,367 military dead including Teddy Roosevelt’s son. At the World War II Memorial & Museum are the names of another 1,557 who could not be found or identified. D Day June 6, 1944 was the largest naval, air and land operation in history as Allied Troops moved into Nazi occupied France.
The next morning I used Bayeux Shuttle to go to Mont St Michel on the border of Normandy & Brittany. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site that I had been wanting to see for years. The 264’ high mound of rock is topped by an impressive stone abbey dating back centuries and stands in the center of of a huge bay appearing like a mirage. Along with Santiago de Compostela in Spain and others, it is a pilgrim’s route going back to when the Kings of England were also Dukes of Normandy. Because crossing the quick sand at low tide was so dangerous and lives were lost, a causeway bridge was built. It is the biggest attraction in France outside Paris and very crowded. Lots & lots of steps to the top, lots of tourist shops at the bottom.
There and back we passed thru so many towns that were heavily bombed by the Allies during the war. And seeing the thick hedgerows along the road, it’s a wonder how these troops even made that liberation march to Paris. The town of Bayeux was unscathed during these attacks as there were spies & refugees living there. I was ready for a Liberation beer when I got back. Oui -as the French say “joie de vivre” meaning: Enjoy Life!
The French train strike got me again the next day as my 7:30am to St Malo was cancelled and I could not leave until 2:30pm. So being as I had checked out of the hotel I dropped my backpack at the Bayeux Shuttle office as they did speak English. I set off to visit the famous Tapestry Museum. The colorful detail of this 230 ft long by 20 inch high embroidered piece of art shows 50 scenes of the Battle of Hastings when back in 1066 William the Duke of Normandy conquered England and took the throne. The fact that this piece of work has survived over 900 years is just as amazing. The charming Tapestry Garden Cafe was nearby to relax & read a bit. Finally arriving in St Malo late in the afternoon, I just managed to walk to the Ibis Hotel before it started to rain. I attempted to walk the walled city, but got so wet I turned back and just had dinner and more of the excellent Bordeaux red wine.
In the morning it was still raining so instead of walking to the nearby ferry terminal
I took a taxi. I was heading out at 8am to St Helier, Jersey in the English Channel just 19 miles from the coast of France. It was a short trip made even shorter by a 1 hour time difference. I had an exceptionally nice studio apartment room at the Sarum Hotel with a view of the water and walking distance from the marina.
Jersey is 5 miles long and 9 miles wide with a population of about 100,000. Altho it is quite British it also has a distinctive French twist. It is almost 100 miles from England’s coast and is not part of the UK or the EU. Both the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey are known as Crown Dependencies, self governing but defended by the UK government, except of course during World War II when they were cut off from both France and England and were taken over by Nazi Germans. I took the bus to the War Tunnels and spent hours there. It told an exceptional story of that time. After some good fish and chips at Liberation Square I met a few locals at the Cock & Bottle Pub & we raised a glass of beer to the Queen for her birthday celebration.
The next days ferry ride 27 miles to Guernsey was an hour long and I walked to the Yacht Inn just across from the Castle and the marina. I was on the top so it was many steep steps up 5 floors, but it had a full English breakfast included and a bar downstairs. This inn dates back to 1854 and was occupied by the Nazi Germans and altho my room was quite sparse, it had a view
After reading the book “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” I wanted to come here. Altho I knew it was a piece of fiction based on a real situation, I still almost expected to meet some of these characters. I arranged a taxi tour of the island visiting sites from the book and my driver, Mike, was a true local. We had an enjoyable couple of hours as his parents lived here during the occupation, but he too was born after the war. I particularly liked seeing the Little Chapel, a miniature version of Lourdes dating back to 1914. It is the smallest church in the world and holds about 8 people. It is decorated with seashells, pebbles and broken china in a mosaic pattern. Victor Hugo’s house is open for visitors, but I was satisfied with just the drive-by. I was amazed by the flowers growing right out of all the rock walls. The speed limit all over the island is 25-35 mph as it’s lanes and roads are very narrow with high hedgerows that need to be trimmed regularly. Several cruise ships now stop here, but Mike pointed out that the people of Guernsey did not want a movie made from the book due to so many tourists already coming. The island is just half the size of Jersey. There is a rivalry between Jersey and Guernsey including over their cows & the good ice cream. Mike said their cows are better looking.
St Peter’s Port is a lovely town of hanging flower baskets. I stopped for what’s called
a “cream” tea, a pot of tea served with scones & strawberry jam & clotted cream to spread on them. Later was a good dinner of moules & frites at the Crow’s Nest overlooking the marina. The next morning I joined a guided tour of the Castle Coronet ending with the noon-day firing of the cannon. Then I just talked with the owner of my hotel for awhile in the bar while enjoying a local Breda beer and a crab sandwich.
Late in the day I took an overnight ferry going to Portsmouth, England where I then took a train to Cardiff, Swansea and on to Pembroke, Wales. I walked to the Connaught Guesthouse and truly was made to feel like a guest by Annemarie & Ed. Again, very top floor but a charming single room with the bath one flight down. They recommended taking the Mill Pond walk to see the swans & their baby cygnets on the way to the Waterman Arms Pub. After the long travel day, I was delighted with the walk & a wonderful meal on the patio in the shadow of the huge Pembroke Castle.
I was hoping to do more walking of the Wales Coastal Path while I was here, but there was a shutdown of some of the bus lines and it led to a lot of confusion. So instead of wasting a lot of time I just took the bus directly to the town of St David.
The huge cathedral is nestled into a hollow and walking thru the stone arch, it majestically unfolds below, a breath catching view. St David is the patron saint of Wales and founded his monastery here back in the 6th century and his shrine is within this cathedral dating back to 1176. It is another one of the religious pilgrimage sites. The Euro 2016 Football championships were being televised at the Bishop’s Pub with England playing Wales, so I joined a group to drink beer and cheer like a local. The following day I took a bus to Tenby, Wales, just the most picturesque pretty as a postcard scenic beach town imaginable with lots of cute colorful shops. The high & low tides in all these places are so dramatic. One of the shop owners explained how to pronounce the Welsh name of Wales which is spelled Cymru but pronounced Cumree. The Three Mariners Pub boasted that Prince William spent time there recently.
Back in Pembroke that night I wandered into the closest bar to my room and was welcomed like a local. There was darts, football on TV, but mostly it was socializing with everyone joining in the karaoke. The people of Wales are just so friendly and nice. Annemarie even came to the train station the next morning to see me off.
The train brought me into Bristol, England & I got on a bus to the HomeStay Hostel in the city centre where I was spending the night. My daughter’s mum-in-law lives in Bristol so she picked me up to take me to The Pony & Trap out in the English countryside for dinner. The narrow roads and high hedgerows and the green, green color never ceased to amaze me. That is what regular rain can do. Bristol is a really cool college city. The hostel room itself was pretty bleak but it had a nice kitchen with a full breakfast in the morning. I was able to walk from the hostel to the main bus station and got an airport bus from there.
I wasn’t able to work out taking the ferry from Dublin or Liverpool to the Isle of Man, so I was flying Easy Jet and I was spending 5 nights there. An airport bus took me to Silvercraig’s Hotel in Douglas right on the seaside promenade. Again I was on the top floor, it had a lift, no breakfast, & no view from my room but a lovely sitting room downstairs looking out to the sea. Strings of lights all along the 2 mile long promenade and the city streets at night turned it into a fairyland. The promenade was such a pretty walk but there were horse drawn trams clip-clopping down the street too. The IOM is 33 miles long and 13 miles wide & has a total population of 100,000. of which Douglas is 30,000 and located on the east coast.
This is where the famous TT Race in late May/early June starts and about 50,000 people descend upon the island during that time. It is the most challenging road race event in the world. Motorcycles racing on public streets & roads around the island up to 200 mph doing 6 laps of almost 38 miles each. Since the beginning in 1907 there have been over 200 killed with 5 more this year earlier in June.
So I got outfitted in leathers, helmut & goggles & climbed on a 3 wheeled motorcycle to do just one lap of 37 & 3/4 miles behind my driver, Roy. Now we did not get up to those kind of speeds but there were times I felt like we were going pretty fast at maybe 60 mph. The highest part of the course is over 1,300 ft on Snaefell Mountain. We could see Scotland from there. It was an exciting experience.
Another famous thing on IOM are the railways. My 3 day Explorer card for 30 pounds gave me use of all trains and buses. One day I took the Victorian Steam Railway to the town of Port Erin in the south just 15 1/2 miles away. It still uses it’s original locomotives and carriages and dates back to 1874. Port Erin is a lovely little town and I was told I had to go to see the Sound while there so I took a bus thru Port St Mary and the end of the line was the Calf of Man. The word calf means a small island near a large island and it is a bird sanctuary just off the mainland. In the visitor centre cafe I had another cream tea.
Another day I took the Manx Electric Railway dating back to 1893, it is the oldest in the world and runs 17 1/2 miles. In Laxey I changed over to the Snaefell Mountain Railway dating back to 1895, it is the islands only mountain and we climbed up over 2,000 feet. It only operates from April – Sept. Snaefell actually means Snow Mountain. From the top one can see 7 Kingdoms: England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Heaven, Mann & the Sea. The Isle of Man sits in the middle of the Irish Sea, yet Scotland’s coast (as the seagull flies) is the closest. It is cold and windy and I am grateful for another cream tea in the cafe before heading back down. Laxey has the world’s largest working waterwheel & it’s a can’t miss bright red color in the green countryside. I then continued on the Manx Electric Railway line to the town of Ramsey in the north. The Star of India now anchored in San Diego, CA was built here in 1863. The interesting part of these railways is that they are not just tourist attractions. The locals actually use these trains to go from town to town. Another day I took the bus to Peel, a town on the west side of the island. From the marina there is a causeway to St Patrick’s Isle where I walked around the walls of the Peel Castle, an imposing 11th century fort. Back in Douglas I found a little place on the promenade called Quids Inn Bar. As the name suggests, you have to pay a pound to get in but the beers are very cheap. It was a classic local dive bar to be sure.
This year the Isle of Man became the first entire country to be named as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The Isle of Man is also a Crown Dependency like Jersey & Guernsey so they too are not a part of the UK or EU but the island has a real British feel & their passports state they are British citizens. Like Jersey & Guernsey, they use the UK pound as currency but they also have their own pounds with their country names stamped on them and they cannot be used elsewhere. So I made sure I always changed them out for real UK pounds.
Flying back to Bristol once again, I stayed another night at the HomeStay Hostel and was upgraded to a better dorm room with a twin bed. I strolled to Brown’s Restaurant for bar bites & beer. This 1872 building was modeled after the Doge Palace in Venice and was the former City Museum & Library. It was heavily damaged in the WWII Blitz, but the stunning facade survived and the building was completely restored.
The next day I took the bus to the train station and went to Penzance in Cornwall. I had to make my way thru the town during their annual Mazey Day Festival to get to the Backpackers Hostel to drop my bag & then joined up with fellow beer drinkers sitting on the sea wall. But I really had to find a quiet place to eat and I found it tucked away behind the Chapel House. This former historic home was recently renovated into a little boutique hotel and there was a small patio with shared tables where I ordered a local Korev beer and a huge mixed platter and chatted with other visitors in a much quieter setting than out on the streets or in the bars.
Back in the hostel TV room the 2016 Football was England vs Iceland and it was an agonizing defeat. There was a lot of socializing at this hostel, it was well run and I snagged the only twin bed in the dorm room of bunks.
The next day I took the train to St Ives, a delightful seaside town. Because I got there early I was able to wander around just as the shops were opening. It was Sunday, so soon the families and dogs took over the narrow streets and it became quite busy everywhere. I grabbed a Cornish pasty meat pie to eat at the beach. By noon it was misting a bit so I ducked into a cafe to have another cream tea before heading back on the train. The hostel had a nice kitchen so I stopped at the supermarket to pick up dinner and breakfast foods.
The following day I took a bus to Mousehole and again arrived very early. I like walking around even before the shops open and the cottages & gardens overlooking the sea were so pretty. I popped into Hole Foods, a cute little cafe for yet another cream tea. Later, I also discovered the Rock Pool Cafe with an outside terrace overlooking the sea. I got a “rocktail” called Merry Maiden, made up of Eideflower, pomegrante & Prosecco garnished with fruit. A delightful drink in a delightful setting chatting with fellow visitors and watching sea lions frolic in the water below. In a little shop called Cat & Mouse I bought a couple little piskies (Cornish good luck charm pixies). Mousehole is such a charming Cornish town.
When I returned on the bus to Penzance I immediately caught another bus to Marazion to get to St Michael’s Mount at low tide. Like Mont St Michel in France, this was another Benedictine abbey dating back to the 11th century, is also surrounded by water and part of the pilgrimage of St Michael’s Way. However it has been owned by a family since 1650 so serves as a castle home and parish. Also different is that the stone walkway going out to it is only passable at low tide and it is magical to watch the tide recede and the walkway appear out of the water. Again, lots of stone steps to get to the top. When the tide is high, boats go back and forth to the Mount.
I had my final night at the hostel in Penzance and then took the train the next morning back to Bristol and stayed yet another night at the HomeStay Hostel. This time they upgraded me to my own room with a double bed, so each stay got better.
I have been to Anne Frank’s House, Auschwitz, Berlin & recently the Imperial War Museum in London so on this trip I grasped even more about World War II.
History, cultures, people & food are all a big part of travel for me.
I’d been to Scotland, Ireland, London & many other places in England before so this trip to the rest of the British Isles gave me a better understanding of who is who in this British zoo.
What the differences are in these countries, who is really British, who is Great Britain, who is the United Kingdom & who is in the EU.
Of course the Brexit vote also happened whilst I was there, so maybe the kingdom is not so united after all. I heard a lot of opinions about this referendum to Leave or Stay, yet I was as gobsmacked at the outcome of their vote to leave the European Union as many others were.
So Cheerio, Ta-Ta, Tally-ho and Toodle-oo.
Just as in the onset of World War II, the poster still reads: Keep Calm and Carry On.

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Andorra, Madeira & Tenerife

Andorra, Madeira & Tenerife

Author: vagabondginger (More Trip Reviews by vagabondginger)
Date of Trip: July 2016

ANDORRA, MADEIRA & TENERIFE by vagabondginger July 2016

My summer in Europe continues. I spent almost the entire month of June in the British Isles with a French connection and that leg of the trip ended in Bristol, England. So next I was on an Easy Jet flight to Barcelona. I would have loved to have seen this beautiful city again, but I was on my way to Madeira. But, as so many times in my travels, I was side-tracked. In my pre-trip research I learned that there is a bus running every 2 hours from just outside Terminal 2 at the Barcelona airport to Andorra. Why am I now going to Andorra? Because I have never been there is usually reason enough for me. Besides, I’m sort of in the ‘hood.

Andorra is a landlocked mini-country in the Pyrenees Mountains bordered by Spain and France. It is a monarchy co-ruled by both these countries, yet Catalan is the official language. It is not a member of the EU yet the Euro is the currency. It has been a member of the United Nations since 1993. Due to the mountainous nature of Andorra, there is really only one road from France and one from Spain so entry into this country happens at one of these 2 points. There are no airports or train lines. My trip from Barcelona airport to my hotel was 125 miles long in under 3 hours. The Hotel Sol Park I pre-booked was nestled in the surrounding mountains in the lowest town in the country, Sant Julia de Loria, at an elevation of just 3,000 ft. Tourism here is based mainly on skiing so during the summer months the hotel was only 35 Euros and because there are so few guests the restaurant and bar are not operating for dinner. I spent the afternoon and evening wandering around this town of just 9,200 and found an outside table to have one of my favorite dinners of pulpos gallegos (octopus & potatoes in olive oil & paprika). Back at the hotel I was able to reserve the Spa for 2 hours for just 10 Euros. This meant lock the door and get naked personal use. Jacuzzi, Turkish steam room, sauna, infrared rain shower and chill shower with invigorating jets. It was pure bliss. This relaxing night plus a free full breakfast in the morning made it a worthwhile trip. The bus picked me up at 9am to go back to the Barcelona airport.

My TAP Portugal flight from Barcelona was thru Lisbon arriving in the capital city of Funchal, Madeira in the late afternoon. This island is located about 600 miles from mainland Portugal.

A bus from the airport dropped me near the Residential Zarco, my hotel just off the promenade at the harbor. A long climb of steps brought me up to Cristina at the front desk who was most welcoming. The room and the breakfast were really sparse, but the price and the location made up for it. Everywhere I walked were restaurants with outside tables, the city was alive with people. This picturesque city of 111,000 with it’s white buildings, terra cotta roofs and colorful flowers spills down the mountains to the bluest of the blue Atlantic Ocean. The distinctive black & white cobblestone patterns of the sidewalks are like the ones in Rio, Lisbon and the Azores. This first night in was the 2016 Football between Portugal and Poland. World class footballer Cristiano Ronaldo is from here and the game was being shown on screens all over. Of course when Portugal won in overtime at midnight, the blaring horns and cheering went on for about an hour.

The next day was July 1st, Madeira Day and there were lots of festivities going on to celebrate when Portugal granted autonomy to Madeira Island back in 1976. As I was wandering down the sidewalk I noticed a crowd gathering outside a TV station, limos lined up in the street and lots of security and I was told the President of Portugal was coming out. He immediately walked among the people kissing cheeks and shaking hands. Then President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa walked over to me to have a chat as the TV cameras rolled, so I may have been on the local news that night. I love that Portugal speaks such good English.

There are cable cars running up the mountain but I used the city bus for 2 Euros to get up to Monte Palace and Gardens. Because of Madeira’s mild climate and rich volcanic soil, exotic plants bloom here year round. The colorful garden walks feature fountains, lakes, waterfalls, bridges, pagodas, sculptures plus there is an art museum and a gem & mineral display to visit. Needless to say I was up there for several hours. Then climbing steps to the very top of Monte was a beautiful church and a hotel’s garden restaurant where I had a light lunch with stunning views of the city. Besides taking a bus or the cable car back down, there was a much more interesting way to go. Wicker toboggans originated back in the 19th century as downhill public transportation but now it’s a tourist thrill ride. Seated in the sled with greased wooden runners I was pushed off by 2 men dressed in white who hopped on behind me and used their boots to steer and brake. It’s a fast way down the steep street. It is said Hemingway came down this way on his visit back in 1954. It was pricey at 25 Euros plus a tip for the guys who got me down safely, but cable cars I’ve done before.

When I went to Sao Miguel island in the Azores last December, I found day tours running all over the island and they were so easy to get booked once I was there. However, I was not able to do this on Madeira, due to it’s large size of 286 square miles. The day tour I wanted going across the island was not going on the days I was there. Then I found that the day cruise going to Porto Santo Island was full on both my days left, so I probably should have pre-booked that. But I was enjoying the city of Funchal so much even though it really does not have any kind of a real beach. People just lay out on the black pebbles. Madeira has some really fine wines very cheaply priced both in bottles and by the glass. A typical Portuguese food is espetada, skewered beef chunks seasoned with garlic and bay leaves and hung over the fire. The skewer is then served at the table hanging on a rack over a plate of french fries and with a jar of red wine, bread and a side salad, it was a really fine meal.

From Funchal I flew Binter Airlines with a connection at Gran Canaria to North Tenerife in the Canary Islands, a distance of about 250 miles. Several islands make up the Canaries and it’s just 62 miles to Morocco and 621 miles to mainland Spain. It is the outermost region of the EU. They too are an autonomous nation since 1982. A bus from the airport took me to Puerto de la Cruz where I was able to walk to the Puerto Azul Hotel I had pre-booked. It was on a nice pedestrian street just a short walk to the waterside, restaurants and shops, and Lili at the front desk did speak English. I chose North Tenerife over the warmer, sunnier South because it was less touristy so I was mainly among the locals, yet I found myself dismayed that more English was not spoken. Everywhere are outside tables for eating and drinking. The beaches are black sand due to the volcanic base. The volcano, Mount Teide , is the highest point in the islands of the Atlantic at 12,198 ft. I wasn’t really interested in the day tour going up there and the day tour I had hoped to take on a loop around the island did not have enough bookings. The weather around the island is so different from one place to the next. I took a bus to La Laguna, a UNESCO World Heritage site just 19 miles away but a sudden squall of wind and rain made it impossible to enjoy walking around.

I then decided to hop on the train and go to the capital city of Santa Cruz in the east, population over 200,000, but with no plan, no map and no English spoken, I couldn’t really figure out what to do there. It’s unlike me to not have a better plan but the weather in Puerto Cruz was good and I liked this small city of about 30,000. I spent my time relaxing, people watching, reading at the coastal cafes, eating, drinking, walking. Like a local I had a manicure, a haircut and a fish foot spa treatment. I dangled my feet into an aquarium of minnows who nibbled at the dead skin cells of my feet. It was tingly and was followed by an excellent lotion foot massage.

When leaving North Tenerife it was completely fogged in so all flights were cancelled. They bussed us all to the South Tenerife airport so I did get to see the difference from North to South. It was completely sunny there. My Norwegian Airlines flight was into Madrid. My daughter and her family have been living there for 6 years so I have been all over Spain, but they are making a move back to London so this was to be my last visit to their house in Madrid and the summer heat was on!

My time for Andorra, Madeira and Tenerife took just 10 days. As an Independent Traveler I seek out new places to go but I do like to just keep moving along.

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The Running of the Bulls

The Running of the Bulls

Author: vagabondginger (More Trip Reviews by vagabondginger)
Date of Trip: July 2016

THE RUNNING OF THE BULLS July 11, 2016 by vagabondginger

The Festival of San Fermin or “the Running of the Bulls” in Pamplona, Spain opens at noon on July 6th followed by 8 days of bulls runs until it closes on July 14th of each year. The bulls that run each morning at 8am will be in the bullfights later at 6pm. This event is hundreds of years old and altho there are many such bull festivals all over Spain, Pamplona is the most famous due to Ernest Hemingway’s book “The Sun Also Rises” published in 1926. Since then this festival has attracted thousands of people from all over the world.

My daughter and I took the train from Madrid on July 10th and stayed at Hotel Burlada, which was booked many months in advance. I chose this hotel because the manager spoke English and buses nearby ran often to the city center, but it was also walkable. The room was nothing special but rates on all hotels are hiked up during the festival time.

We immediately changed and headed off to the city street party going on all day and all night for the whole festival. Everyone is wearing white with red bandanas around their necks. (We got ours beforehand on-line, but they can be bought there). It’s such a cool thing to be joining in the festivities. We also reserved spots on an apartment balcony many months ahead of time, so with beers in hand we scoped out where our balcony was located for watching the next morning’s run. Then we walked the streets from the corral where the bulls would be released to the bull ring where the run ends, a distance of just 1/2 mile with a couple of curves. Along the way we met many people, some who were staking out their plans for the run. The runners are not just a bunch of crazy young drunks, they take it seriously as they know the risks.

But meanwhile there is much merriment, music, dancing & drinking. There are huge amounts of trash, some get into spraying each other with sangria but probably even worse things happening cause the stickiness under our shoes. Occasionally have to step around someone sleeping it off right where they fell. At one point we joined a parade with a band and banner carriers heading to the bull ring. We stopped at a beer stand and met people who had 2 tickets to the bullfight that they weren’t going to use so they gave them to us free. All tickets were sold out & scalpers were selling them outside at inflated prices. We had not planned on going to the bullfight as we had gone to one in Madrid a few years ago. We got right in for the 6pm start and altho we were pleased with the seats being on the shade side, we were among the more serious spectators. Across the arena in the “sun” seats were all the bands & their instruments, partiers with buckets of beer and sangria on ice that they brought in and most weren’t even facing the ring.

The best bulls from various ranches thru-out Spain are brought to Pamplona to make for an exciting event. Certain ranches breed bulls with characteristics to make them brave and aggressive. The bulls are raised 4-6 years in rural pastures with no human contact. These Spanish Fighting Bulls get to a weight of at least 1,300 lbs. and have longer horns than other breeds.

Bullfights have a lot of pomp and pageantry, but also passion and drama with protesters. We do not condone or condemn but feel much like Hemingway did in his book “Death in the Afternoon” that it’s part of Spain’s tradition. Someday it may be outlawed.

We found the great asador restaurant Zaldiko for dinner but it was 9pm before it opened, so we enjoyed mojitos while waiting We had excellent meat cooked over a wood fire. During the whole festival there is a nightly international fireworks competition so to cap off our first day was a spectacular fireworks show at 11pm lasting 45 minutes.

July 11th – my birthday- and we are up very early and dashing out the hotel door to catch a bus down to the plaza as we have the reserved spots on an apartment balcony. This is the best way to see the running of the bulls. The owners of these apartments make money and can be elsewhere during the festival as the agents take care of the bookings and have the keys. Streets are being cleared 6:30-7am so we are escorted up to our first floor balcony on Estafela Street, the longest stretch of the run following Dead Man’s Curve. We watch the preparations below as streets are swept and washed, police set up barriers and order people off. Runners must be 18 and sober so they are not a risk to themselves or others. Lots of Red Cross medics are in place between the double fences, shop and bar doors are closed. Everywhere on the balconies up to 4 stories high on each side of the street are people wearing the white clothes and red bandanas as are the runners behind the barrier, quite the colorful sight.

Excitement is building as police now allow the runners to spread out along the route. At 8am the sound of the first rocket signals the corral gate is open, a second rocket sound means all the bulls are out. Six bulls are released along with six steers wearing cowbells.

Bulls are most savage when they get separated so having the slower steers behind them is suppose to keep them together. But it doesn’t always work. A couple of days before we arrived a bull stopped, turned around and tried to run back, then became very angry and gored and trampled some runners who were seriously injured. Pastores (bull shepherds) are along the route with long sticks to try to get the bulls moving when this happens.

When a runner falls, they know to just curl up as it’s better to be trampled than gored. There is much pushing and tripping as “macho” runners want to be in front and then jump out of the way. Many carry rolled newspapers to wave at the bulls. If they are not quick enough they may be the headline on the next day’s paper. Runners probably only experience 20 seconds near the bull and try to touch them. But even Usain Bolt would not be able to outrun these bulls. So watching them on the street below us went very quickly and it was a pretty clean run. There was a problem with a bull falling on top of some runners in the tunnel leading into the bull ring and we saw that on TV in the apartment. The whole run is televised live with cameras running on wires above the streets and then replays follow. Each time you watch you see something different happening as it’s all so fast. Some runners do wear distinctive colored shirts so they can pick themselves out when watching the replays later. The photographs in the newspapers are almost chilling. A third rocket firing signals all the bulls are in the ring, then the fourth rocket means they are in the pens and the run is over. The average run is only about 3 minutes unless there are problems along the way. We did hear many ambulances as there are always injuries.

Since 1924 there have been only 15 deaths so most of the runners do make it, the bulls of course do not.

It was an experience and a spectacle unlike any other and the adventure of being there made me feel very alive on that July morning of my birthday and that may not have been true if I had actually tried to run with the bulls.

To learn more or reserve a balcony for next years run go to runningofthebulls.com Ole’

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Kulusuk, Greenland from Reykjavik, Iceland

Kulusuk, Greenland from Reykjavik, Iceland

Author: vagabondginger (More Trip Reviews by vagabondginger)
Date of Trip: September 2016

KULUSUK, GREENLAND from Reykjavik, Iceland Sept. 2016 by vagabondginger
I spent the summer of 2016 as an Independent Traveler in Europe and flew WOW Airlines from Boston thru Reykjavik and on to Paris to start my travels. Three months later I then flew from London Gatwick Airport back to Reykjavik to make my return flight to Boston.
I had spent a week in Reykjavik in December of 2015 when the winter weather was not very cooperative, so I decided to take another look at the city and hopefully this time see the Northern Lights.
I arrived Sept 1st and used Gray LInes to transfer from the Keflavik Airport to the Falkinn Guesthouse in the city where I had pre-booked one of the shared hostel rooms. The host, Aaron, was so welcoming and even lent me his winter jacket to use for my stay. That night at 10pm I joined a Gray LInes tour group to go out of the city to look for the Northern Lights. During our first stop, it was misting so there was no chance to see them. Then we headed to another location in the south where stars could be seen so we were able to see some very light swirling lights, not really green but very whitish. We didn’t get back to the city until about 3am. This is just the beginning of the Northern Lights “season” as they cannot be viewed at all in the summer months.
On Sept 3rd I flew from Reykjavik Airport to Kulusuk in East Greenland, a distance of 460 miles in just under 2 hours with a 2 hour earlier time difference. I booked thru Iceland Travel for the flight on Air Iceland and 2 nights at the Kulusuk Hotel. As the plane was landing I could see the beautiful turquoise blue color of the icebergs from above. The hotel manager, Jesper, picked me up at the airport but it actually would have been walkable to the hotel it was so close. This airport was built by the US military in 1958 and is the only connection with the outside world about 7 months a year.
Following lunch one of the staff named Haldora took me for a walk along the dirt road to the village of Kulusuk. The walk was about 2 miles round trip and it was very windy, so I was glad I had on the jacket Aaron had lent me. Haldora came from a village called Isortoq with a population of 70 that can only be reached by boat during the few ice-free months or by helicopter. This involves a connection going thru what she calls the “city” of Tasiilaq (population 2,000). The ice from late October to mid July makes East Greenland very isolated.
On our walk we pass the cemetery with mounded graves marked by white crosses with no names and plastic flowers. Next we pass a small lake which supplies the village drinking water. The houses do not have running water as the ground is so hard and rocky it would be too expensive to bury the pipes deep enough to prevent freezing. Blue sheds are water pumping stations and villagers go there to collect their water. There is also no proper sewage disposal so they have chemical or earth closets. The colorful red, yellow, green and blue houses are built on rocky outcrops above the harbor and are heated with oil that is stored in big tanks. Electricity cables are inside insulated pipes laying along the road. Living conditions are pretty extreme at the Arctic Circle. There is a nurses station but no doctors so for serious treatment it’s a helicopter ride just 10 minutes away to the hospital in the “city” of Tasiilaq. There is a small school for ages 6-16 after which children must go to Nuuk, the capital city of 17,000, to complete their education. There is also a grocery store and a post office, but both were closed. Some fresh produce is flown in, but there is a distinct lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. During the ice-free months, cargo ships deliver supplies. There was a small souvenir shop, which was also closed, where seal skin products and bone carvings are sold. We walked up the hill to the church which was built in 1922-3 by the crew of a Danish ship, which broke up here in the ice. They built the church out of the ship’s timber. Services are held on Sundays but there is no minister, just a deacon who is also the policeman. It’s also a meeting place for the local community. There are some beautiful stained glass windows that were donated by a German artist who visited here on a day trip in 1970. There are lots of huskies tied up around the houses and they are howling and yipping. They are working dogs to pull the sleds as snowmobiles would be expensive and too noisy and heavy for hunting seals on the ice. This area was discovered in 1884 by Danish Captain Gustav Holm. For the 460 Inuit people living there at that time, this was their first contact with the outside world, so the people went from the Stone Age to the 21st Century in a relatively short amount of time.
Today about 250 people live in the village of Kulusuk and not many have regular jobs. Most of them live from subsistence fishing and seal hunting.
Alcoholism is quite evident as we are walking around.
Back at the hotel I am surprised by the number of people staying there. The other guests seem to be part of tour groups and hiking clubs. There are 34 rooms, each having 2 single beds and private baths. There is a bar and a big dining room with windows looking out to the bay.
Manu is from Italy and she was there for the summer working the front desk, setting tables and tending the bar. Maki is from the Philippines and he too was working during the summer season cooking and serving the buffet style food. There are a few more locals who do housekeeping and other cleanup. This hotel opened in 1999 and is very important for tourism in this area. Altho it seems to operate even into winter, I’m sure the number of guests falls with the snow.
My second day, I walked again to the village as I just wanted a look inside the store, but again it wasn’t open. The hotel had postcards and stamps and let me use a credit card whereas the store probably would have required me to have Danish krona for anything I would have bought there. The weather was quite nice as the wind had stopped. I also went for a hike after lunch just to get high enough to be able to again view the icebergs in the bay from above.
The groups had their boat excursions pre-booked so later that day Jesper was able to find a local man with his small boat to take me out across the fjord to the glacier and among the icebergs. Altho icebergs look so big floating in the water, 90% of their size is actually below the water so they are indeed massive. The glacier and icebergs are such a beautiful turquoise color making them even more “cool” to see. An hour and a half went by quickly and sitting in the small cabin of the boat, I was warm enough. Temperatures here range 30-50F highs and 10-30F lows.
The next day’s weather was sunny and quite balmy so I took a walk along the bay. After lunch Jesper made several trips with the van to get all of us and our bags from the hotel to the airport for the flight to Reykjavik.
As an Independent Traveler just being in this small, remote Greenlandic settlement was memorable, but having staff and other guests to chat with and a hotel bar certainly made the
2 nights here more enjoyable.

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MiG 15 Pilot

MiG 15 Pilot

Author: Stephen Goch (More Trip Reviews by Stephen Goch)
Date of Trip: September 2016

ONE MORE EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME – MiG-15 PILOT SEPTEMBER 2016

We were planning a trip to Santa Fe and Taos, and I thought it would be fun to do some flight seeing from the Santa Fe Airport. I Googled the airport, and much to my surprise, there was a place called the Jet Warbird Center that gives flights in military aircraft! Some years ago, I had flown a Czech L-29 Jet trainer, but this company was offering flights in a MIG 15! For those not familiar with this old plane, here is a link that describes it: http://www.infoplease.com/spot/mig15.html

mig 15 plane

From what I understand, the slow speed characteristics of this jet leave something to be desired. The approach speed of the plane is about 140 knots, which is faster than the cruising speed of the light aircraft I normally fly!

I contacted the operator, and have it set up for the third day we are in Santa Fe. This is what the operator e-mailed me: “The MIG is a handful of airplane and this will be a back seat flight for you.

I hope that you are not much over six feet tall and about 215 lbs. We will do about an hour and a half of ground school before the flight. We cannot do landings for you from the back seat…so we will get in two go around traffic patterns…some high speed work and some low speed handling…with a bit of acrobatics if you like”. I am so looking forward to this!

Here is a link to a video of the MIG 15 taking off in Santa Fe
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwFm3w8Bmf4

I downloaded the MIG 15 Manual, and saw why Larry (the instructor) wanted me in the back seat. The starting sequence is much more complicated than the one I did in the L-29, as the L-29 is a trainer and the MIG is an actual fighter. I arrived at the airport a little ahead of time, (thank you Neverlost with Hertz), and met with Larry. I told him I had found the cockpit layout, and the limitations of the aircraft.

We discussed what we were going to do in the aircraft, and I had to fill out some paperwork to keep within the FAA regulations.

I met one of his other students, who graciously volunteered to take some photos of me in the aircraft.

mig 15 plane

The first photos I took were of the front and rear cockpit instrumentation.

All of the instruments had been replaced with ones in English format as far as altitude, speed, and rate of climb, as opposed to the Cyrillic original instrumentation. The original instruments were in kilometers and meters instead of in miles and feet.

I climbed in and Larry helped me strap on my parachute and the seat straps. He showed me the red handle that would release all the seat straps at one time. I then asked him where the ripcord was for the parachute (very important), which he also showed me.

Larry started the engine, and we taxied out for takeoff. We had to stay below 200 knots (230 mph) until we reached 10,000 feet. Our rate of climb was absolutely amazing! The light aircraft I fly has a rate of climb of between 500 and 700 feet per minute. The jet was climbing at 4,000 feet per minute! It was a fantastic experience. We leveled off at 16, 000 feet, and 400 knots (460 mph). I normally cruise in my light aircraft at 100 knots and 4,500 to 6,500 feet.

He let me fly the aircraft, doing turns and slowing the aircraft down to 150 knots to feel the sluggish response on the controls.

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and he told me to level off at 8,000 feet to make our landing approach. This confused me for a second; until I realized the airport’s elevation was about 7,000 feet! The airports I fly out of are all near sea level, and the pattern altitudes run between 850 and 1,500 feet. I set up the approach, and Larry took over and did a touch and go landing, I then set it up for landing again, and Larry landed the jet.

mig 15 plane

To say this was an experience of a lifetime is an understatement. Kathy told me I was grinning from ear to ear when I got back to the hotel.

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Day 8: Eagle’s Nest (Duikar)

Day 8: Eagle’s Nest (Duikar)

Author: Nawab Tanweer Ahmad (More Trip Reviews by Nawab Tanweer Ahmad)
Date of Trip: September 2015

Date: 22nd September 2015

Duikar a village at an altitude of 9043.3 feet (2850 m) is the highest village in Hunza Valley and is above Altit village.  It’s at a distance of nearly 11km from Karimabad, about 25 minutes’ drive by jeep or two and half hour walk. Situated in Duikar is famous Hotel & Restaurant by the name Eagle’s Nest and this is our today’s destination.

We wake up and went out for the breakfast at “Hunza Snack Bar”, last evening we also had a soup from this restaurant. It was Chicken Soup and was very delicious filled with chicken pieces and egg. We totally enjoy that soup, but in the breakfast, we eat Arzooq, tea, and omelet. The weather was excellent today as the valley is shrouded in clouds and it was dazzling since night. Since we own a rain cover with us, therefore, we didn’t suffer any problem roaming around in the city.

Traveling to different shops talking with the locals, we stop at a store where a carpenter is busy in designing a beautiful door, that door is made of walnut wood and crafting on the door is excellent. Letting the cat out of the bag with the carpenter we come to recognize that all the products placed in his shop, including door, wardrobe, chair, table and all other furniture items are constructed of virgin forest. Going forward, we entered another store by the name “Hunzo-e-Hayan” and this is also a wood craft shop where there are many decoration items as well as daily household use items made of Walnut and Apricot wood. There were also Taxidermy local animals in that store, we purchased some wooden items and proceed onward.

We have seen many different sorts of birds since we came here in Hunza, but the most special and a beautiful bird that we have seen for the first time is “Blue Whistling Thrush”. This bird is big in size with a fascinating blue color. At that place were many flocks of birds sitting all around, we got photographs of those before going along our walk about the city. In that location were also cows, goats, and sheep owned by the locals there, but most peculiar are the Yaks. The yak is a long-haired bull-like animal found throughout the Himalaya region of Southern Central Asia. People of Hunza bread these yaks for milk and essence.

Walking about on feet is the best way to explore the beauty of this region. After having a walk around in this area, we return back to our room. Since today is our last day in Karimabad, after three wonderful days, we packed all our luggage and make ourselves get up for another journey to Duikar, where we will be staying at the Eagle’s Nest Hotel. We already have booked a room at Eagle’s Nest in advance and Mr. Rehman from “Mountain Art & Gems Gallery” will drop us off at Eagle’s Nest in his jeep. After checking out at Hotel Blue Moon we shift all our luggage in the jeep and started our journey to Duikar.

The route to Duikar is very beautiful with trees and water streams on the way and since it was still raining the surrounding looks marvelous. The road passes through the Altit village and is ascending up on the mountain. After about 30 minutes of a drive, we reached the Duikar village at 9043.3 feet above sea level. Our jeep stop at the entrance of the Eagle’s Nest Hotel and we immediately run into the hotel as it has started raining heavily. The hotel staff brought our luggage into the reception, the reception was a large well decorated and carpeted hall. The guy at reception asked us about our booking and handed over the keys to the room, he told us to wait in the hall until the rain ends and have a welcome tea. We decided to sit at the corner of the hall from where we can have the marvelous sight of the whole Hunza Valley below and the surrounding mountains above. The tea was tasty and the panorama of the valley was mesmerizing.

While waiting for the rain to stop, we roamed around the hotel hall and visited different rooms. Adjacent to the reception in the lobby is also store that sells different decoration items, handicraft products, and precious gemstones. We were experiencing a good time, then a staff boy handed us two umbrellas and ask us if we like to go into our room so that our luggage can be shifted. Unfortunately, they only have two umbrellas, but we have coped with it, so if anyone is traveling in a rainy season remember to carry an umbrella with them. We decided to go to the room and freshen up and get changed. The rooms we have booked are on Rakaposhi block, this block is in a marvelous location it is near the edge and there is a beautiful garden in front of the block from where the whole Hunza valley can be sighted below and the mighty mountains surrounding us.

After settling up in our room we came out in the garden that is in front of our room. We can see the Hunza valley below covered with clouds and the Golden Peak, Lady Finger, Rakaposhi and other mountains covered with snow surrounding the valley. The air was fresh but cold, it is still dazzling and we were enjoying every moment of it. Whenever the rain starts heavy we return back to our block under the ceiling and see the stunning surrounding from inside and when it gets low we come out. The time just flies and after the stunning sunset, the surrounding area became dark, the mountains also hide in the dark, and from above here the lights in the Hunza valley can be seen at different places.

Now is the time for dinner so we went to the reception area and ordered the dinner, the cook told us that it will take some 20 minutes for the dinner to be served. So we sit in the lobby and surf the web, updating our Facebook and checking email. One thing to mention is that there is free Wi-Fi in nearly every hotel, you just have to ask for the password at the reception. At Eagle’s Nest there was some Japanese tourist too, and for them, the hotel offered the special seating arrangement along the floor with little tables for food.

After nearly 20 minutes the food was dished up in the dining area, it was ‘Chicken Karhai’ and ‘Naan’. The food was savored and we all liked it a lot. After dinner, we decided to return back to our room, but there was one problem that there were no lights on walkways between blocks and reception and it was still raining. But we have already prepared for such kind of situation and had a torch light with us that helps us while moving around the area.

We return back to our room the bed was very comfortable, but the night was really frigid. While we were at the reception we asked the staff if they can supply a heater for us, but we were surprised to know that they only have one heater in the hotel and it is already provided to the guests in another room. But they have provided us with sufficient blankets and comforters so that we can sleep with comfort. After discussing the today’s fabulous day and plan for tomorrow we all fell asleep. 

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