Ostarine

Miami – Beyond the Beach

Author: pakce  |  Category: Destination Miami
A diverse cosmopolitan center set in a spectacular natural playground, Miami is the stuff vacation dreams are made of. Whether you seek world-class sports and attractions, innovative cuisine, arts and culture, family fun, sizzling nightlife or simply want to worship the sun, the Magic City has it all. Here are a few points of embarkation for launching your personal Miami dream.


Miami Beach

White sand on Miami Beach.

Nights of tropical splendor are guaranteed on the “American Riviera,” where iconic resorts retain echoes of Miami Beach’s legendary past and serve as glamorous stages for today’s jetsetters drawn to Miami for its hot club scene.

Despite its exclusive St. Tropez-like vibe, Miami Beach is just minutes from everything that matters: restaurants owned by celebrity chefs, designer shopping, hip neighborhoods like the Design District and arty Wynwood, museums, professional sport facilities and venues for big annual events like Art Basel and the South Beach Food & Wine Festival. The beach is just the beginning of Miami’s pleasures. 

Art Deco District

Ocean Drive in South Beach.

Neon-drenched South Beach is not just party central for locals, celebrities and visitors alike, it’s also the world’s first 20th century historic district. More than 800 delightful Art Deco buildings are packed into the National Register Art Deco District, their streamlined pastel facades a photographer’s dream. Stay in a restored gem and check out the tours offered by the Art Deco Welcome Center on Ocean Drive. The new 25-cent South Beach Local bus makes it easy to explore on your own.

The emerging neighborhood south of Fifth Street (SoFi) is stylishly subdued, an appealing alternative to SoBe’s social frenzy. Rent a bike and check out brand-new South Pointe Park, where native dune areas harbor turtle hatchlings and specially designed light towers illuminate the waterside promenade. It’s a great spot to watch ships pull out of the world’s biggest cruise port.

Little Havana

Mosaic in Little Havana.

Multicultural Miami moves to a predominantly Latin rhythm, a rhythm particularly felt in the dynamic Cuban-American neighborhood known as Little Havana. From the robust aroma of coffee drifting from open windows to the chatter of playing pieces and Spanish conversation in Domino Park, a stroll along S.W. Eighth Street — known as Calle Ocho — yields many sensory delights.

Shop for guayabera shirts and panama hats, watch skilled workers roll premium puros in one of the area’s many cigar factories or browse for colorful artwork and salsa CDs. Inexpensive Cuban eateries offering authentic Mojito cocktails and live rumba music along with typical meals of roast pork or grilled seafood also make Little Havana one of Miami’s best nights out.

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Coral Gables

Swank Coral Gables was one of Miami’s first planned developments, the vision of developer George Merrick who dreamed of creating a Mediterranean Revival enclave during Miami’s Gilded Age. Anchored by the National Landmark Biltmore hotel (1926), the palm-lined streets of “The City Beautiful” lead to elegant Spanish-style plazas and splashing fountains.

Most of Coral Gables’ stately tile-roofed homes were built of local limestone, called coral rock, taken from a quarry which then became the world’s most enchanting swimming “hole.” Resembling a lagoon with rocky grottos, waterfall, bridge and painted lantern posts, the spring-fed Venetian Pool (1924) is a great place to cool off in style after browsing the boutiques along the Miracle Mile or the art galleries on Ponce de Leon Blvd.

Key Biscayne

Cape Florida Lighthouse at Key Biscayne.

Only 15 minutes by car from downtown Miami, secluded Key Biscayne shimmers between sea and sky, a world away in mood. Settled first by Tequesta Indians and discovered for Spain in 1513 by Ponce de Leon who sought the Fountain of Youth there, Key Biscayne’s history is steeped in tales of piracy and shipwreck.

Modern visitors can stay in posh resorts on one of the U.S.’s Top Ten beaches, take an eco-tour of the barrier island ecosystems and teeming offshore reefs, boat, fish and enjoy an endless variety of water sports. Cape Florida Lighthouse (1825) overlooks the sparkling Gulf Stream and Biscayne Bay, providing a focal point to lush Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.

With three more of the world’s great natural wonders — Biscayne National Park, Everglades National Park and the Florida Keys — within an hour’s drive, Miami is the glittering port from which endless dreams of adventure set sail.

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10 Free or Cheap Things to Do in New York City

Author: pakce  |  Category: Destination NewYork

You may think that a trip to New York is all about upscale dining, high-end shopping and five-star accommodations. Sure, the city is full of these types of indulgences, but the metropolis also offers so many cheap and free things to see and do around the five boroughs (yes, there is a New York outside Manhattan), that you can have the vacation of your dreams, without going bankrupt.


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From the streets of Brooklyn, to the parks in Queens, wildly popular tourist attractions in Manhattan, New York has something for everyone. So here are some ideas to check out when you visit the Big Apple.

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Central Park

Nicknamed “The Backyard of New York,” Central Park offers so much to see and do for any type of traveler. You can play a game of catch on the great lawn, or snack on a city pretzel while just people watching. Other fun activities in the park include playing chess or checkers, jogging, bicycle riding, horseback riding or simply strolling. In the summer months, enjoy free concerts at the “Central Park Summer Stage,” and in the winter slip on a pair of ice skates and hit one of the two rinks in the park. This beautiful piece of land, that stretches 843 acres, is a true gem to both visitors and locals. ^Top

Times Square

This iconic landmark in the middle of the most popular city in the United States is worth seeing even with the crowds of visitors and locals that stream along its sidewalks. No matter when you visit, whether it is a crisp fall day or a muggy summer night, the place is electric. From the larger-than-life billboards, to the masses of people, cars and stores, Times Square is something to experience in person. Best of all it is free!
Recently celebrating its 125th birthday, the Brooklyn Bridge is by far one of the most famous bridges in the world. This structure, that connects Brooklyn and Manhattan, is the oldest suspension bridge in the United States. Walking across this engineering marvel is a must for any New York enthusiast. The views of both lower Manhattan, and the neighboring Manhattan Bridge, are breathtaking. There are plenty of places to stop, snap a picture, and relish in a true New York moment. When crossing the bridge, be sure to stop into Grimaldi’s pizza (on Old Fulton Street, on the Brooklyn side, under the bridge) for one of the best slices in New York — it is worth the journey!


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This area of land in midtown Manhattan spans two city blocks, hosts 19 commercial buildings, and is full of great free things to see and do. There is no “best time” to visit Rockefeller Center, but a very popular one is the holiday season from Thanksgiving through New Years Day. Some things to check out are the store’s front windows that are adorned with holiday cheer. Then of course there is the Rockefeller Christmas tree. No Christmas tree gets as much attention around the world, and rightfully so, because it is awe-inspiring in person.

But Rockefeller Center is not just about Santa and shopping. Throughout the year, wake up early — really early — and be in the live audience outside, during a taping of the Today Show. Bring a poster, and say hello on national television to your friends and family back home. Or ascend to the skies by taking an elevator 70 stories up to the Top of the Rock Observation Center, for stellar 360-degree views of the city. ^Top

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Located on 5th Avenue between 81st and 82nd streets is one of the most culturally fulfilling ventures you can take on your trip around New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art (aka “The Met,”) is truly one of the best ways to spend a day in the city. From ancient to modern, all types of art are found within this building. Check out other great areas of this museum, like the musical section, which hosts an array of instruments that have had both historical and social importance. Like most of the great museums in this city, admission is free, but donations are highly suggested and welcomed. ^Top

Coney Island, Brooklyn

Take the D, B or F trains to Stillwell Avenue, and you will find yourself at a very historic part of New York. Long before Big Apple residents ran off to the Hamptons or the Jersey Shore to escape city life, thousands would make Coney Island their weekend getaway. Today’s Coney Island, while not as popular with the rich and elite, sure does offer travelers much to see and do. After you grab a Nathan’s hot dog, cheese fries and lemonade, make your way to the boardwalk and enjoy the salty sea breeze.

Located right by Coney Island are two great attractions. One is the Brooklyn Aquarium, which is a low-cost, yet fun-filled way to spend the afternoon. The other is truly a great idea for the sports lover on the trip. The Brooklyn Cyclones softball team plays in newly constructed Keyspan Park. Watch the home team battle such nemesis as the Staten Island Yankees. Tickets are priced between $8 and $15.

Brooklyn has easily become “the place” to live in, dine at or simply be seen in these days. Celebrity residents like Steve Buscemi and Jennifer Connelly have made living in Brooklyn hip. So it comes as no surprise that this borough also offers a lot of things to do. Take Park Slope for example.

This trendy neighborhood is chock full of great restaurants, trendy shops and beautiful architecture. A great way to spend a day here is to grab a bite to eat at Tutta Pasta, stroll down one of the many streets lined with beautiful century-old brownstones and make your way to Grand Army Plaza. This is a part of Brooklyn that is truly one of a kind and very fun to visit.

Prospect Park, Brooklyn

If you find yourself in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, then be sure to check out Prospect Park. This 585-acre oasis was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, who also created Central Park. It has been said by many friends of the two, that they preferred Prospect over Central. Its no wonder, this park is just gorgeous and full of fun things to do. There are plenty of walking, running and biking paths for travelers of all speeds. The park is also great for birding. With so many rare kinds of birds and 18 different species of ducks, it is a great way to spend the day.


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Queens Botanical Garden

Just a few blocks from the hustle and bustle of busy Flushing Main Street, is the picturesque grounds of Queens Botanical Garden, with 39 acres of tulips, roses and hundreds of other types of flowers. Check out such amazing areas of these grounds, like the bee garden, rose garden and cherry hill. Amazing flowers and plants decorate pretty much every inch of this gem in Queens. The best part of checking out this attraction is that it will not cost you a thing! Free admission year round, but donations are welcomed.
Climb aboard a free ride around the Upper New York Bay. This 25-minute ride will depart New York City’s South Ferry and arrive in Staten Island’s St. George’s Ferry Terminal. Along the way you can get a whole new view of the city that never sleeps. Snap some great pictures of the Manhattan skyline and enjoy a day on the water. The five-mile journey is called the “biggest bargain” in New York by many locals.

Toronto Cananda

Author: pakce  |  Category: Destination Toronto Canada

Toronto, Canada, in the province of Ontario, is one of the most diverse, fun and safe cities to visit in North America. It is the biggest city in Canada, and one of the top financial destinations in the world. But you don’t have to spend a pretty penny when you visit Toronto. Here’s a look at some of the free and relatively cheap sightseeing attractions, plus one dining option.

CN Tower

This 1,815-foot free-standing structure is one of Toronto’s most famous landmarks. It is also the best location to get a breathtaking view of the entire city. Avoid weekends if you can, because the lines can get long. But most weekdays you will be up above “T.O.” before you know it. Prices are reasonable at around $27 for adults, $20 for children ages 4-12 and no charge for children 3 and under. The tower has three dining locations and plenty of spots to snap the perfect vacation picture.

Saint Lawrence Market

The Saint Lawrence Market Complex is home to a Saturday Farmer’s Market that dates back to 1803, as well as the Tuesday-through-Saturday South Market, with more than 50 vendors selling fresh fruit, veggies, meats, cheese, breads and more. This amazing, colorful, outdoor marketplace is located just south of nearby St James Park and minutes from the Gardiner Expressway. In addition to shopping for fresh foodstuffs, you can stop into a deli, pizzeria or other restaurant for prepared meals. Enjoy the people watching!

Hockey Hall of Fame

Canadians love their hockey, so it comes as no surprise that residents would want a hall of fame for the beloved sport in the country’s most popular city. Whether you are a sports enthusiast or not, the Hockey Hall of Fame is a fun and affordable attraction to visit when you are in Toronto. This location is the home of the Stanley Cup, hockey’s richest prize.

You will have plenty to see and do in this interactive hockey museum, that boasts the largest collection of hockey memorabilia. Plenty of photo opportunities are available, including one station where you can don hockey equipment and pose in front of a goal. Not only is this a fun location to check out, but it is also affordable. Prices are $13 for adults and $9 for children and seniors.

Casa Loma

One of Toronto’s biggest attractions is also one of its most beautiful and historic. Casa Loma, a majestic castle-like mansion and former home of prominent businessman Sir Henry Mill Pellatt, is located on Toronto’s Austin Terrace.

A highlight of this must-see location is Casa Loma’s five acres of beautifully landscaped gardens, that include sculptures and fountains. Inside the mansion, visitors can peek into 20 of the 98 rooms, including the wine cellar, billiard room, smoking room, library and Sir Henry’s suite. You will marvel at the décor of each of the rooms, and really get a sense of how good this Toronto financier truly had it. Admission is affordable too: $17 for adults 18-59, $11 for seniors 60+/children 14-17, and $9.25 for children ages 4-13.

Bonjour Brioche

When you are in Toronto, you will be surrounded by many great dining options. One particular location is perfect for breakfast or brunch. Bonjour Brioche is a locals’ favorite and is just a picture perfect small shop on Queen Street East. The mouth watering aroma of fresh breads and coffee fill the air in this quaint locale. Grab a table and get ready for some local fare. Try the oversized French toast, complete with real maple syrup and covered in powdered sugar and fresh fruits. Wash it down with some freshly squeezed orange juice. Then grab a bag of scones, muffins or their signature brioche for the ride back to the hotel.

Top 5 Things to See in Stockholm, Sweden

Author: pakce  |  Category: Destination Stockholm Sweden

Stockholm, the capital city of Sweden, is ripe with historical sites and attractions, yet blends in seamlessly with a modern world. During my visit, I took a tour through the city and found an interesting contrast of old and new. But it was the city’s historical sites that really captured my attention. ^Top

1. Old Town

Gamla Stan, or the Old Town: Europe’s largest and best-preserved medieval city, Gamla Stan contains a wealth of narrow, curved, cobblestoned streets filled with interesting shops, small cafes, art galleries and more. I could spend hours just walking along, soaking in the area’s architecture and ambience. However, Gamla Stan also is home to several Swedish landmarks, including the city’s cathedral, Storkyrkan.s most popular tourist destination, Skansen is the world’s original open-air museum. Founded in 1891, this unique attraction showcases life in Sweden from its earliest days. For example, visitors can explore an extensive collection of buildings representing all aspects of Swedish life, such as a local farmer’s small home and an 18th-century country manor. In addition, expert guides are available to provide background on the people living and working in centuries past. Furthermore, you can check out a variety of Scandinavian animals, including lynxes, wolverines and more.

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2. Royal Palace

The official residence of the king and queen of Sweden, the Royal Palace holds court in Gamla Stan. Here, visitors can catch a glimpse of how the country’s earliest monarchs lived life. In the Royal Apartments, you can see some of the palace’s oldest remaining interiors, dating back to the 1690s. At the Treasury, you can view a collection of crowns, scepters, swords and more used by the royals for special functions. What is fascinating to me is these are the same areas not only where past monarchs called home, but also where today’s royals live and work. It’s like a living museum.
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3. City Hall

Comprised of more than 8 million bricks, the City Hall opened in 1923 after 12 years of construction. Today, it is home to the prestigious Nobel banquet each year. Imagine walking the same floors as the lauded people who receive Nobel prizes year after year. As you stand in the Blue Hall of the building, where the banquet is set up, it’s actually a bit daunting to picture the vast room full of dignitaries, scholars and more. Not to be overlooked, the building’s Golden Hall also is noteworthy as it is covered with 18 million tiles, arranged to create mosaics that illustrate scenes from Swedish history.

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4. Vasa Museum

Prepare to be intrigued as you see and learn about the warship Vasa, which sank in Stockholm during its maiden voyage in 1628. When I first heard this story, I was amused that a brand new ship would sink its first time out. However, after seeing the actual vessel, I can certainly see why it was doomed to fail. It’s quite fascinating to walk around the Vasa and take in just how massive it is. But what I found more fascinating was located downstairs in the museum: “The People from the Vasa.” This exhibition looks at the people onboard the Vasa at the time she sank. It includes the skeletons of some of the people found with the ship along with re-creations of how these people might have looked. It’s quite enthralling and a bit eerie at the same time, but totally worth your time.

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5. Skansen

Sweden’s most popular tourist destination, Skansen is the world’s original open-air museum. Founded in 1891, this unique attraction showcases life in Sweden from its earliest days. For example, visitors can explore an extensive collection of buildings representing all aspects of Swedish life, such as a local farmer’s small home and an 18th-century country manor. In addition, expert guides are available to provide background on the people living and working in centuries past. Furthermore, you can check out a variety of Scandinavian animals, including lynxes, wolverines and more.

Seductive Sorrento, Italy

Author: pakce  |  Category: Destination Sorrento Italy

The marina at Sorrento.Astounding views of Mount Vesuvius pale against the sky, lingering scents of lemon groves, quiet winding wide streets, busy town squares abuzz with traffic of an Italian seaside resort — all combine to make Sorrento as alluring a mix today as it has been for visitors throughout the ages.

The marina at Sorrento.

Caesars and princes, poets and musicians, villains and saints have found themselves drawn to Sorrento’s inlets, secluded villas and grand hotels through the ages. While the city center has grown into a large and crowded tourist mecca, the ancient and timeless aspects of Sorrento remain largely intact and accessible to those willing to explore beyond the main downtown areas.

In reality, this means Sorrento’s appeal nowadays runs the gamut of tastes and activities, from those who like to luxuriate in the atmosphere and artifacts of more distant times, to those who revel in the more present-day amenities and opportunities for entertainment. And if your own tastes tend toward indulging in both, then Sorrento can certainly prove a small but varied feast of pleasures.

Fronting the Mediterranean and stretching inland to neighboring hillsides, Sorrento is well situated for the traveler inclined to put some time and energy into active outdoor pursuits either on city street, country pathway or even out on the water. Walking Sorrento and its coastal peninsula, whether to savor its outdoor or indoor natural and man-made treasures remains the ideal way to experience town and countryside. Of course, the Greek foundation of the city is colored with legend and poetry, the Latin name of Surrentum being linked to the worship of the Sirens, common to the peninsula.

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Exploring Sorrento by foot

View of Mt. Vesuvius from Sorrento’s coast

The regular grid plan of the streets running west from Piazza Tasso is about all that is left of Greek and Roman Sorrento. What remains of the 15th century walls is visible along the busy via degli Aranci ring road or on piazza della Mure Vecchia. Sorrento’s present-day residents take time to enjoy their city at night when a no-car restriction (from 8 pm to 12 am) comes into force and people get out for an evening struscio (stroll) around residential and commercial districts. But even a day-time stroll from the shopping district back to your hotel or along the quiet streets leading to local churches and museums can provide memorable glimpses of ancient walls, graceful gates and courtyards, or balconied windows that reflect a long and diverse history.

Beyond the city itself, there is even more of the Roman legacy to discover on foot. From the earliest time of their possession of the Sorrentine peninsula, Romans favored the region as a retreat from the heat and congestion of the imperial capital. Consequently, they built luxurious villas along the coastline from Castellamare di Stabia to Punta della Campanella?a trend that continues into the present day.

A network of reasonably well-maintained footpaths now weaves across the entire area from Castellamare di Stabia to Amalfi to Punta della Campanella. Many of these are tended by the Club Alpino Italiano (CAI), which marks their routes with colored markings on rocks, walls or lamp posts. Paths vary in difficulty: plan ahead with maps and information from the Club’s office or the town offices of the Aziende Autonome di Soggiorno, Cura e Turismo. Heading west from Sorrento, there are a few easy and pleasant walks you can take which wind down to the Villa di Pollio Felice, the remains of a Roman villa, or upward to the Deserto in Sant’ Agata sui Due Golfi. These outings can be easily done inside of a morning.

For swimming and sunbathing, avoid the dark, volcanic sand beaches like Marina Grande. Instead, seek out a private beach such as Bagni Salvatore or even Bagni della Regina Giovanna, which have clean water and snorkeling available. If you are more adventurously inclined, as one of the local boatmen to drop you off in some secluded bay and pick you up later — a small luxury that might cost you around 25 Euros.

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Important palaces, museums and churches

Sorrento church by night.

 

The city boasts the remains of some medieval palaces that tourists can visit. One must-see is the Palazzo Correale, an early fifteenth-century building with an impressive front door and arched windows. Take time to go into the florist’s shop in the courtyard to admire the eighteenth-century majolica tiled wall. On the same street, you will also find the thirteenth-century Palazzo Veniero, whose windows are framed in geometric designs made of lovely colored stone.

Sorrentine craftsmen made their town famous in yet another respect from the eighteenth century onward with their creative skills in woodwork and marquetry. The beautifully restored palazzo Pomarici Santomasi contains a private collection of intarsio, the delicate furniture that resulted. At the Museobottega della Tarsialignea, displays more contemporary designs in marquetry furniture. The ground floor shop also offers a better quality marquetry than you might find in the souvenir type shops elsewhere downtown.

Given its long and colorful history of outside occupations, it is not surprising that Sorrento’s important churches mirror a range of influences and styles. The church of San Francisco, for instance, stands beside a small fourteenth-century cloister with graceful ogival arches. The nearby piazza Sant’Antonio is named for the city patron saint, whose tomb lies within the eighteenth century crypt of the basilica Sant’Antonio. Overlaid in a very baroque style, it has actually stood here since the fourteenth century.

The other interesting church to look in on is the Duomo (cathedral) Santi Filippo e Giacomo (Corso Italia); this originally Romanesque structure was rebuilt in the fifteenth century, and although it has a Gothic appearance its facade is actually quite modern. Noteworthy inside are the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century paintings in its side chapels and floating over you on the ceilings. The bishop’s throne is a jigsaw of ancient marble fragments, while the choir stalls are appropriately adorned with fine renditions of the local intarsio.

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Sample Sorrento’s culinary treats

 

Sorrento gelateria.

An expensive dinner is an occasional treat not to be missed in a region proud of its dishes of many ingredients and produce grown locally. The Bay of Naples is home to some of the most traditional dishes associated with Italy, be it pasta or pizza. Additionally, the farmlands, vineyards and waters along the Sorrentine Peninsula and Amalfi Coast are also the source for the culinary fare that graces menus from the five star to the local sidewalk vendor around Sorrento.

Pasta is said to have originated here (and likewise, pizza), so while you can only savor your plate of spaghetti marinara at the local trattorias, you can still buy all the necessary ingredients to make it back home from the very elegant food stores or even from the local grocery stores.

No old-fashioned Neapolitan dinner would be complete without a glass of Limoncello, a local liqueur made from fermented lemon peels, alcohol and sugar, which can be found just about anywhere. You will find it bottled in every possible shape and size, often with very classy-looking packaging, but you can still find tiny stores which display the old rough-hewn bottles of yesteryear.

Though they call themselves a pizzeria, Ristorante Pizzeria La Fenice is a pleasant, reasonably priced establishment serves much more than pizza. Their seafood is both fresh and well prepared and the pasta is also quite good. The airy garden feel of the atrium-styled dining room, and the service was notable in a region where food is quickly dispensed with no fanfare. Though there are undoubtedly finer restaurants in this town catering to the more upscale market, the high quality of food served here at reasonable prices by an attentive staff makes this little establishment a worthwhile visit. Ristorante Pizzeria La Fenice also seems to stay open later than other dining spot nearby.

First-class regional cuisine with plenty of atmosphere can be found at Il Buco, located just off the piazza Sant?Antonio in the cellars of an old convent. There are also tables on the steps outside during the summer months. The menu is nouvelle Italian and mostly fish based, the price range is high, but the extensive wine list is reasonable.

You cannot do much finer for belle epoque surroundings, and an equally fine culinary celebration of regional fare, than a meal at Ristorante Vittoria, in the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria. Top chef Vicenzo Galano has created a menu that also relies frequently also on seafood, but is distinguished by some interesting renditions of pasta dishes featuring regional produce such as capers, olives and mozzarella.

Like every other town in Italy, Sorrento has one primo gelateria to satisfy the hungry locals and dairy-mad tourists. In Sorrento you’ll want to check out Davide, which is located along the main stretch of downtown. Offering both fruity flavors like fresh peach and lemon along with creamier concoctions such as chocolate and hazelnut, Davide should have something to please everyone, especially when the afternoon sun really begins to blaze.

River Cruising in the Netherlands

Author: pakce  |  Category: Destination River Cruising Netherlands

The Netherlands, otherwise generally known as Holland, is widely recognized worldwide for particular symbols: windmills, wooden clogs, cheese and tulips. Travelers can get up close and personal with these quintessential hallmarks of the Dutch country on a river cruise throughout Holland — and neighboring Belgium — in the colorful springtime months.

That’s when Holland’s famous flowers are in full bloom — especially at Keukenhof Gardens in between Amsterdam and Rotterdam, where visitors can see more than 7 million flowers in their glorious rainbow of colors. Still, other Dutch and Belgian cities bring more delightful sightseeing in the springtime, and the passing landscapes that river cruisers view from their “floating hotel” are absolutely gorgeous. Here’s a peek at some of the highlights of this region in the spring:

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Alluring Amsterdam

 

River cruises often start or end (or do both!) in Amsterdam, the capital of Holland. This waterfront city has an amazing history that dates back more than 700 years. It began as an important seaport and center for trade, and today Amsterdam beckons visitors to its incredible art and history museums, thriving restaurant scene and vibrant nightlife.

Water courses through Amsterdam in a network of canals spanned by more than 1,000 bridges. One of the most popular ways to get an overview of the charming city is on a canal tour. Glide along the waterways in a glass-topped boat past seventeenth-century gabled houses and colorful barges. Dinner cruises, happy-hour cruises and jazz cruises are other festive ways you can enjoy some time on the water in Amsterdam.

Museums are among the most popular attractions in Amsterdam. Most visitors take some time to stroll through the world-famous Rijksmuseum. It possesses an unrivaled collection of Dutch art, from early religious works to the Golden Age. Many masterpieces by Rembrandt are on display here, including his famous Night Watch painting of militia men. The Van Gogh Museum, housing more than 200 paintings and 550 sketches by the Dutch artist, is also located nearby.

The Anne Frank House, in the center of Amsterdam, is the hiding place where the teenage Anne Frank wrote her famous diary during World War II. Today, the rooms are empty, but still breathe the atmosphere of that period of time. Quotations from her journal, historical documents, photographs, film images, and original objects that belonged to those in hiding and their helpers illustrate the events that took place in the hidden annex. The original diary and other notebooks are on display here.

Once you board your river cruise ship to make your way through Holland’s waterways, you’ll dock at smaller towns along the way. Depending on your itinerary, you might visit Kinderdijk, with its collection of eighteenth-century windmills; Arnhem, home to the Dutch royal family’s residence for 300 years and also a significant WWII site; Dordrecht, with its Grote Kerk, a church that dates back to the twelfth century; Zierksee, with a beautifully preserved medieval center; or Rotterdam, not really a “small” town, but actually the world’s busiest port!

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Keukenhof Gardens

Perhaps the highlight of any springtime river cruise in Holland is a day-long excursion to Keukenhof Gardens. The world-famous park holds an exhibition of flowering bulbs annually; this year it’s open March 19 to May 21, 2009. While the peak blooming time of the 7 million flower bulbs planted here is highly dependent on Mother Nature (and whether or not it’s been an unusually cool spring), in general you can count on seeing some gorgeous hues of color in multiple rows of flowers when you visit in April.

This 70-acre park bills itself as the most photographed place in the world – and it’s really no wonder, since it’s not only filled with a spectacular display of tulip fields, but also lakes, more than 150 works of sculpture art, greenhouses and, of course, at least one quintessential picturesque windmill. This is one attraction where you won’t want to forget your camera. Framed, enlarged photos of the awe-inspiring sights at Keukenhof Gardens make amazing decorative souvenirs to remind you of your delightful vacation in the Netherlands in the springtime.

Berlin: Europe’s High-Energy City of Change

Author: pakce  |  Category: Destination Berlin Germary

 

Think of Germany’s capital as Europe’s ‘newest old city’ and you’ll have some idea of what to expect when you come here. Finally reunited as the last century drew to a close, Berlin today mirrors a convergence of contemporary lifestyles in an historic city that also has generous open space and recreation for urban dwellers. So whether you decide to play hard or easy, the options around Berlin are wide - from spa and fitness to forests and lakes that are a vital part of its urban landscape.

While Berlin remains among Europe’s youngest, most lively capitals right now, with over 6,000 pubs within the city’s limits, there are plentiful forms of entertainment not only after hours but just about any time. At the same time, with the sheer variety of healthful things to do here, it’s also one of the most memorable sides of experiencing Berlin. Whether you’ve only got a few days or as much as a week, the city’s many different active options, the many different choices offer something for every level of energy and interest.

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Get Active Outside

Beach at Wannsee. Photo by Hal Peat.Dedicated bike lanes line most Berlin streets, making it a practical way get around in a cardio-fit fashion, but the city’s extensive parks and lake areas also provide ample routes for the biking enthusiast to pedal around the sprawling urban/rural mix. One of the best-equipped bike rental operators is Fahradstation, which has several city-wide locations (but phone ahead to reserve). If you’ve got at least half a day, this outfit also runs bike tours as far out as Potsdam and the eastern lakes. Interested in participating in a big-time local sports happening?

If inline skating is one of your activities, then a more frequent event to be a part of is ‘Blade Night’, which happens from spring to August every second Wednesday of the month. Streets in the central downtown are closed off to traffic for the evening, and rollerbladers take over the heart of the metropolis (during October to April, though, this happens indoors at Arena concert hall (Eichenstrasse 4 in Treptow).

On the other hand, if you’d also like to be out and about without wheels or crowds of any kind, then this city’s many green areas, Spree river and canal banks provide plenty of space. The Tiergarten, close to the government quarter, is especially popular with joggers.

Berlin is an amazingly aquatic city, with some 120 sailing and 56 rowing associations, many of which offer day membership rates for visitors. The Berlin and Brandenburg lakes together make up the largest connected water area in Europe, and water sports of all kinds make up an equally large part of many Berliners’ lifestyle. Right into September, locals and visitors are out and about on motor boats, yachts, mingling with surfers and canoe paddlers on the Wannsee, Havel or Spree.

I visited the huge Wannsee in western Berlin on a breezy but sunny late September day and lucked into the middle of a sailing regatta, while on other parts of the lake there were plenty of other craft bouncing on the waves, from paddle boats to canoes to windsurfers and jetskiers.

Berlin’s better known central and western districts such as Charlottenburg, Prenzlauerberg or Mitte may still lead the way as far as best developed and numerous facilities, from indoor workouts at Gold’s Gym to horseback riding to sailing and windsurfing, but you should consider at least a visit into the former East Berlin district of Koepenick, which contains a huge lake called the Moeggelsee. The shoreline along the Moeggelsee has plenty of both aquatic and land based activity, including sailing and boat rentals, windsurf and kayak rentals, and biking and rollerblade rentals; scenery and sport draw local Berliners and travelers alike from all generations, each taking advantage of the summer or fall seasons for an outing by the water.

And if you’re here during the winter months, Berlin also offers some five ski slopes to practice your parallels on, and if there’s been sufficient snowfall, you can hook up for lessons on the Teufelsberg, Berlin’s own man-made mountain.

^Top

Olympic Stadium & Spectator Sports

Berlin’s Olympia Stadion is probably one of the most famous Olympic stadium sites as the arena for the 1936 Games. Walk around inside this landmark of massive Neoclassical architecture, imagine the crowds roaring as Jesse Owens surges forward into history, and gaze at the names of all the Olympic medalists inscribed on the walls and the huge statues outside. The stadium is still very much in use, so if you check ahead you may be lucky enough to time your visit with an actual sports event.

For something more recent though, you can always take part in one the more popular spectator sports that happen at various times throughout the year, from ice hockey to soccer to sailing regattas. You could try to be here during an event like the Berlin Marathon, which takes place every September — some 27,000 runners from around the globe took part in the latest one.

With its super-efficient subway system, Berlin is a great city for exploring from one end to the other at any time of the year. You hear it from locals and travelers alike — Berlin is changing fast, fast, fast — in other words, visit soon while there’s still time to witness the change and see what this metropolis was like in the early 21st century.

Touring New England

Author: pakce  |  Category: Destination NewEngland

What images pop into your head when you think of the northeast corner of the United States? Maybe it’s the quintessential town square, with a gleaming white church steeple looming above a grassy gathering place. Or perhaps you associate New England with its miles of shoreline and all the culinary treats that come with seaside dining — from clam chowder to Maine lobster.


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You might be familiar with New England’s brilliant autumn season, during which Mother Nature produces a brilliant kaleidoscope of colors, as green leaves turn burnt orange, golden yellow and cranberry red. Think back to your American History lessons, and you can envision the landing of the Mayflower, the Revolutionary War, and other important events that took place on New England soil even before the United States had formed.

Indeed, New England offers visitors a wonderful blend of cultural, culinary and historic experiences. Comprised of six states, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, the region has a varying landscape — from the ocean to rolling farmland to rocky mountaintops. Since the states that make up New England are small in size, it’s easy to get to know the personality and character of each on a driving tour through America’s Northeast.

Most escorted tours of New England begin and end in Boston, Massachusetts, by far the largest city in the region. Founded by Puritans in 1630, and the site of many of the most important events during the American Revolution, Boston is truly a treasure-trove of history. Get introduced to some of Boston’s most important historic events and sites on a walking tour of the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile red-brick path through the city. Led by costumed docents, a narrated tour is a wonderful introduction to Boston’s heritage, with 16 stops along the way, including Paul Revere’s house, dating back to 1680, and the Old South Meeting House, where the Boston Tea Party began.

Boston is home to many American “firsts,” including the country’s first public school (Boston Latin) and first college (Harvard), as well as the first subway line and first town meeting, which took place at Faneuil Hall. Visitors flock to Faneuil Hall Marketplace, which centers around a pedestrian-friendly shopping area, with plenty of street performers and a la carte dining options. Arrive hungry when you visit Quincy Hall Colonnade, where dozens of vendors sell international food items — including authentic clam “chowda”!

^Top

Quaint Countryside, Charming Towns, Natural Beauty

Drive less than an hour outside of Boston and quickly the scenery evolves from big-city skyscrapers to what is more typically associated with New England landscapes — charming communities, rural farmland, and seaside towns. Many escorted-tour itineraries introduce visitors to this quieter side of New England with visits to local farms, such as the working dairy at Billings Farm & Museum, where guests can get up close and personal with Vermont’s rural heritage. Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks introduces visitors to the ancient method of harnessing tree sap and boiling it into wonderfully sweet maple syrup.

Newport, Rhode Island, gives visitors a glimpse of how socialites in the early 20th centuries spent their summers — in amazingly ornate mansions designed for families with last names like Astor and Vanderbilt. Meanwhile, Bar Harbor, Maine, serves as the gateway to Acadia National Park, the first established national park east of the Mississippi River. A drive through Acadia brings you close to Maine’s rugged coastline, with its pine forests and granite peaks.

Living history museums are popular attractions in New England; this is where entire villages have been recreated to reflect what life was like early centuries. Connecticut’s Mystic Seaport is a 19th-century seafaring village with authentic buildings that have been transported from other New England locales and filled with antiques. Visitors tour an old druggist’s office, general store, one-room schoolhouse and more. Meanwhile, Old Sturbridge Village transports you back to 1790 to 1840, with costumed staff who educate guests about what life was like in New England in that era.

What images pop into your head when you think of the northeast corner of the United States? Maybe it’s the quintessential town square, with a gleaming white church steeple looming above a grassy gathering place. Or perhaps you associate New England with its miles of shoreline and all the culinary treats that come with seaside dining — from clam chowder to Maine lobster.

You might be familiar with New England’s brilliant autumn season, during which Mother Nature produces a brilliant kaleidoscope of colors, as green leaves turn burnt orange, golden yellow and cranberry red. Think back to your American History lessons, and you can envision the landing of the Mayflower, the Revolutionary War, and other important events that took place on New England soil even before the United States had formed.

Indeed, New England offers visitors a wonderful blend of cultural, culinary and historic experiences. Comprised of six states, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut, the region has a varying landscape — from the ocean to rolling farmland to rocky mountaintops. Since the states that make up New England are small in size, it’s easy to get to know the personality and character of each on a driving tour through America’s Northeast.

Most escorted tours of New England begin and end in Boston, Massachusetts, by far the largest city in the region. Founded by Puritans in 1630, and the site of many of the most important events during the American Revolution, Boston is truly a treasure-trove of history. Get introduced to some of Boston’s most important historic events and sites on a walking tour of the Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile red-brick path through the city. Led by costumed docents, a narrated tour is a wonderful introduction to Boston’s heritage, with 16 stops along the way, including Paul Revere’s house, dating back to 1680, and the Old South Meeting House, where the Boston Tea Party began.

Boston is home to many American “firsts,” including the country’s first public school (Boston Latin) and first college (Harvard), as well as the first subway line and first town meeting, which took place at Faneuil Hall. Visitors flock to Faneuil Hall Marketplace, which centers around a pedestrian-friendly shopping area, with plenty of street performers and a la carte dining options. Arrive hungry when you visit Quincy Hall Colonnade, where dozens of vendors sell international food items — including authentic clam “chowda”!

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Drive less than an hour outside of Boston and quickly the scenery evolves from big-city skyscrapers to what is more typically associated with New England landscapes — charming communities, rural farmland, and seaside towns. Many escorted-tour itineraries introduce visitors to this quieter side of New England with visits to local farms, such as the working dairy at Billings Farm & Museum, where guests can get up close and personal with Vermont’s rural heritage. Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks introduces visitors to the ancient method of harnessing tree sap and boiling it into wonderfully sweet maple syrup.

Newport, Rhode Island, gives visitors a glimpse of how socialites in the early 20th centuries spent their summers — in amazingly ornate mansions designed for families with last names like Astor and Vanderbilt. Meanwhile, Bar Harbor, Maine, serves as the gateway to Acadia National Park, the first established national park east of the Mississippi River. A drive through Acadia brings you close to Maine’s rugged coastline, with its pine forests and granite peaks.

Living history museums are popular attractions in New England; this is where entire villages have been recreated to reflect what life was like early centuries. Connecticut’s Mystic Seaport is a 19th-century seafaring village with authentic buildings that have been transported from other New England locales and filled with antiques. Visitors tour an old druggist’s office, general store, one-room schoolhouse and more. Meanwhile, Old Sturbridge Village transports you back to 1790 to 1840, with costumed staff who educate guests about what life was like in New England in that era.


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A Feast for the Senses in Bali

Author: pakce  |  Category: Destination Bali Indo

Temples, rice terraces and persistent vendors Floating Pavilion.

When the driver turns the van onto the highway, Bali’s 3 million inhabitants are everywhere. Motorcycles whiz in and out of traffic on a street crowded with vans and dump trucks that pay little heed to traffic laws. Uniformed schoolchildren walk beside the road carrying straw bundles used to sweep the schoolyard. Storekeepers squat in the shade of an overhang, their shops hugging the dusty pavement.

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The Bali Hindu religion, a mix of Hindu and Buddhism, is a visible presence throughout the island. Temples and shrines peak over the gray brick walls of family compounds. Inside, a temple with at least three shrines faces northeast towards the sacred mountain, Gunung Agung.

In the rice terraces, a temple guards a flooded field where women bend over tender shoots, their hats shielding them from the intense sun. The offerings of flowers and herbs placed on roadsides and wall ledges perfumes the air.

At the town of Klungkung, we tour Kerta Gosa (the Hall of Justice.) Part of an 18th century royal palace, this open-air pavilion’s ceiling is a visual rulebook of the laws of Hindu society.

Another thatched-roof pavilion is surrounded by a moat populated by goldfish and lotus flowers. Known as the Floating Pavilion, Bale Kambang’s painted ceiling tells the story of Sang Sutasoma whose supernatural powers turned arrows and spears into flowers. A museum housing a few artifacts, pictures and masks, completes the complex.

Vendors swarm as we return to the parking lot.

“Lady, very nice, very beautiful, you will like.” A man pushes silver jewelry in front of my face. I shake my head, “No.”

Sellers poke merchandise-laden arms into our vehicle making it difficult to shut the door. With pickpockets in the crowd and vendors selling fake items, this is not a good place to buy anything.

^Top

Wood, silver and batik artisans, plus Pura Kehen temple

Pura Kehen temple. Photo by Donna L. Hull.

At the village of Mas, the van drives through a guarded gate where an elegant building houses a woodcarving cooperative. Men and women lounge on the steps of a shady veranda waiting to guide visitors. They become expert salespeople by the tour’s end.

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The sweet smell of wood shavings mixes with the sharp tang of veneer. A woodcarver chisels a half-finished piece while, next to him, a woman rubs stain onto a giant elephant. My hands glide across a Buddha’s silky smooth stomach. The mahogany wood feels surprisingly cold.

At a visit to Celuk, known for silversmithing, women sit behind tables on a narrow front porch making treasures from tiny slivers of metal. Inside the building, long glass cases display thousands of handmade creations.

Batik artisans work on the porch at Tonpati, too. In their showroom, a counter-top arrangement of intricately designed scarves creates a kaleidoscope of luxurious silk.

“Would you like to visit a Balinese home?” Wisia asks.

Great-grandfather greets us at the compound entrance. Inside, a one-room cooking house sits across from several small huts used for sleeping. An open room in the center of the complex houses celebrations and ceremonies. It is also where the oldest family member sleeps.

Two statues of a human body with a gargoyle head guard the family’s temple entrance. Enclosed by a wall, the temple is a flat area with several shrines standing in a row.

Tonight’s dinner appears around the corner — a porcupine. He sleeps in his cage while a black hen clucks to her chicks as they scratch through a pile of oval shaped leaves.

Great-grandfather waits for us to pay our respects when we exit the compound. I place a monetary gift in his open hand. He smiles a toothless grin and bows.

Even on the rural road to Penelokan, motorcycles buzz around us. At an overlook, good weather provides a view of the active volcano, Gunung Batur, and Lake Batur. Black lava flows are visible in the crater that is 18 miles in diameter and 600 feet deep. Wisia says that when the volcano erupts, it becomes nightly entertainment for the islanders who come to watch the fiery show.

A visit to Pura Kehen, one of an estimated 10,000 Balinese temples, completes the day. This 12th century shrine rises steeply up a hill and into the steamy jungle. Breathing heavily, the group trudges up steps that lead to an ornate entrance. To show respect, we wear pink sashes tied around our waists. On the first terrace, a bell tower stands beneath a 500-year-old banyan tree. The main shrine sits on the next terrace, mostly obscured by scaffolding in preparation for an upcoming celebration.

As the van races back to the ship, Wisia says, “If tonight is clear, watch for the lanterns of night fishermen as your ship leaves the harbor.”

The moon shines a silver path across the water. The long blast of a horn rides the warm breeze, announcing our departure. In the distance, tiny points of light bob in the water winking a Bali goodbye.

Many cruise ships offer “Bali As You Please.” At $240, which includes a van, driver and interpreter for eight hours, it’s a hassle-free introduction to an exotic culture.

Temples, rice terraces and persistent vendors

Floating Pavilion. Photo by Donna L. Hull.

My husband and I are sharing a private excursion with another couple from the ship. It includes a driver and interpreter plus air-conditioned van, providing eight hours of cool comfort combined with an individualized itinerary.

When the driver turns the van onto the highway, Bali’s 3 million inhabitants are everywhere. Motorcycles whiz in and out of traffic on a street crowded with vans and dump trucks that pay little heed to traffic laws. Uniformed schoolchildren walk beside the road carrying straw bundles used to sweep the schoolyard. Storekeepers squat in the shade of an overhang, their shops hugging the dusty pavement.

The Bali Hindu religion, a mix of Hindu and Buddhism, is a visible presence throughout the island. Temples and shrines peak over the gray brick walls of family compounds. Inside, a temple with at least three shrines faces northeast towards the sacred mountain, Gunung Agung.

In the rice terraces, a temple guards a flooded field where women bend over tender shoots, their hats shielding them from the intense sun. The offerings of flowers and herbs placed on roadsides and wall ledges perfumes the air.

At the town of Klungkung, we tour Kerta Gosa (the Hall of Justice.) Part of an 18th century royal palace, this open-air pavilion’s ceiling is a visual rulebook of the laws of Hindu society.

Another thatched-roof pavilion is surrounded by a moat populated by goldfish and lotus flowers. Known as the Floating Pavilion, Bale Kambang’s painted ceiling tells the story of Sang Sutasoma whose supernatural powers turned arrows and spears into flowers. A museum housing a few artifacts, pictures and masks, completes the complex.

Vendors swarm as we return to the parking lot.

“Lady, very nice, very beautiful, you will like.” A man pushes silver jewelry in front of my face. I shake my head, “No.”

Sellers poke merchandise-laden arms into our vehicle making it difficult to shut the door. With pickpockets in the crowd and vendors selling fake items, this is not a good place to buy anything.

Wood, silver and batik artisans, plus Pura Kehen temple

Pura Kehen temple. Photo by Donna L. Hull.

At the village of Mas, the van drives through a guarded gate where an elegant building houses a woodcarving cooperative. Men and women lounge on the steps of a shady veranda waiting to guide visitors. They become expert salespeople by the tour’s end.

The sweet smell of wood shavings mixes with the sharp tang of veneer. A woodcarver chisels a half-finished piece while, next to him, a woman rubs stain onto a giant elephant. My hands glide across a Buddha’s silky smooth stomach. The mahogany wood feels surprisingly cold.

At a visit to Celuk, known for silversmithing, women sit behind tables on a narrow front porch making treasures from tiny slivers of metal. Inside the building, long glass cases display thousands of handmade creations.

Batik artisans work on the porch at Tonpati, too. In their showroom, a counter-top arrangement of intricately designed scarves creates a kaleidoscope of luxurious silk.

“Would you like to visit a Balinese home?” Wisia asks.

Great-grandfather greets us at the compound entrance. Inside, a one-room cooking house sits across from several small huts used for sleeping. An open room in the center of the complex houses celebrations and ceremonies. It is also where the oldest family member sleeps.

Two statues of a human body with a gargoyle head guard the family’s temple entrance. Enclosed by a wall, the temple is a flat area with several shrines standing in a row.

Tonight’s dinner appears around the corner — a porcupine. He sleeps in his cage while a black hen clucks to her chicks as they scratch through a pile of oval shaped leaves.

Great-grandfather waits for us to pay our respects when we exit the compound. I place a monetary gift in his open hand. He smiles a toothless grin and bows.

Even on the rural road to Penelokan, motorcycles buzz around us. At an overlook, good weather provides a view of the active volcano, Gunung Batur, and Lake Batur. Black lava flows are visible in the crater that is 18 miles in diameter and 600 feet deep. Wisia says that when the volcano erupts, it becomes nightly entertainment for the islanders who come to watch the fiery show.

A visit to Pura Kehen, one of an estimated 10,000 Balinese temples, completes the day. This 12th century shrine rises steeply up a hill and into the steamy jungle. Breathing heavily, the group trudges up steps that lead to an ornate entrance. To show respect, we wear pink sashes tied around our waists. On the first terrace, a bell tower stands beneath a 500-year-old banyan tree. The main shrine sits on the next terrace, mostly obscured by scaffolding in preparation for an upcoming celebration.

As the van races back to the ship, Wisia says, “If tonight is clear, watch for the lanterns of night fishermen as your ship leaves the harbor.”

The moon shines a silver path across the water. The long blast of a horn rides the warm breeze, announcing our departure. In the distance, tiny points of light bob in the water winking a Bali goodbye.

Many cruise ships offer “Bali As You Please.” At $240, which includes a van, driver and interpreter for eight hours, it’s a hassle-free introduction to an exotic culture.

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Destinations Siem Reap and Angkor Wat,Cambodia

Author: pakce  |  Category: Destination Angkor Wat Cambodia
Ancient temples at Angkor Wat.

The bus lurched forward and dust poured through the windows that wouldn’t quite close all the way. I glanced to the seat behind me where my fifteen-year-old son, Zeke, was fast asleep. If you can imagine riding inside four pieces of corrugated steel held together by a rubber band, then dragged along a rocky shore, all the while being doused in red dust, you’ll have some idea of what the bus ride felt like. Yet, there was my son, mouth hanging open, slumped against the window.

Zeke and I were headed to Angkor Wat the ancient ruins near Siem Reap, Cambodia. We were living in Hainan, China, at the time and homeschooling Zeke so the trip was to be a combination of history, and social studies with a little holiday thrown in.

Angkor Wat is a UNESCO World Heritage site. However, in a recent scoring of preservation in relation to damage by tourism, Angkor Wat scored a low 48 which means ‘moderate trouble’ — a mix of positives and negatives. The score places it in slightly better shape than Venice, but worse than Stonehenge. However, in the accompanying article by Jonathan B. Toutellot he stated that “All (sites) are still worth visiting. Thoughtfully.”

So I decided that’s what we would do. Zeke pointed out in an early discussion of the trip, “If nobody goes to these places, how will they know whether they’re worth saving or not”

Getting to Know Siem Reap

Monk on a motorbike in Siem Reap.

Siem Reap is the gateway to Angkor Wat and the place to stay if you are visiting the temples. In many ways, Siem Reap felt like a city racing ahead of itself. Yet, it was also a dynamic place. While the negative sides of tourism were obvious with the karaoke clubs and dodgy bars, so were the positive. Cambodia remains one of the poorest countries in the world, yet over and over I met people who are working to re-build the country.

Few countries have suffered as much turmoil in recent years as Cambodia. During the four year reign of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge killed off nearly one fourth of the population. Many others have been killed or maimed by land mines. While I had been aware of this fact, the evidence of my own eyes brought it home in a profound way. Zeke and I both noticed how few truly elderly people we saw in Siem Reap, especially compared to where we live in China where mornings and evenings the streets fill up with the elderly practicing Tai Chi or playing mahjong in the tea houses. And we also noticed a high number of amputees — victims of land mines.

We spent our first day in Siem Reap visiting some of the local organizations like The Akira Mine Action Gallery. Begun by Aki Ra, a former Khmer Rouge child conscripted soldier, the gallery and museum is dedicated to educating Cambodians about landmine safety, as well as continuing to support de-mining procedures. Estimates claim there are still 5 to 10 million devices in the ground in some parts of Cambodia. Not only does this constitute the literal danger of loss of life or limb, but it also prohibits farmers from using otherwise productive farmland for growing much needed crops for the country. Most Cambodians recognize children as the hope for the future and Aki Ra has also established the Cambodia Landmine Kids College Fund. Aki Ra and his wife, Bou Hourt, have unofficially adopted a number of homeless children who have fallen victim to landmines. Neither collects any salary from the donations.

Other establishments committed to social change are springing up all over town. The Singing Tree, an eco-venture cafe provides free space for community activities and supports a number of projects in the areas of environment, clean water and street children. As well as a cafe, The Singing Tree offers yoga and meditation classes, dance performances and special programs and talks on environmental and social concerns of the community. Michael, one of the founders, told me “Siem Reap has a unique facet whereat a seam-line between the extreme difficulties of the Cambodian poor and the lush leisure of the high-class traveling affords the community with a plentiful field for social innovation.”

Colors of Cambodia, which was initiated by an American artist and businessman, Bill Gentry, showcases artwork by children from some of Siem Reap’s most underprivileged schools. Visitors can buy the artwork or make donations. The money helps pay for a school nurse, medical supplies, an English teacher and art supplies. Bill said, “This project is not about making money. It is about sharing the joy of art and letting some kids know it is a viable career path, and it is this inherent creative talent in the Khmer people that built the amazing complex of temples commonly known as ‘Angkor Wat’ It would be a dream if this underlying talent could be ‘re-awakened’.”

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Exploring Angkor Wat

Unofficial guide at Angkor Wat. Jordan Clary photo.

Angkor Wat is the focal point, not only of the local community, but of Cambodia and I was anxious to see it. I had heard that the sunrise was the time to see the main temple, so the following morning I bicycled out there. Alone. The only major disagreement Zeke and I had on the trip revolved around the sunrise.

“You want me to get up at five in the morning to watch the sunrise! The sun rises every day. What’s the big deal?”

The more I pushed, the more he balked. So in a concession to the teenage metabolism, I let him sleep. Angkor Wat is only about six kilometers from Siem Reap so it’s an easy ride. The ticket price of $20 for one-day or $40 for a three-day pass allow for multiple entry to the sites.

When I arrived a large number of tourists had already gathered around the royal pond and the surrounding environs. I walked down the pathway and caught my first glimpse of this monument to the gods. In a secluded corner of the ruins a guard sat and sang a haunting melody. Angkor Wat is spectacular. In spite of the crowds, it still retains its mystery and I could understand why Angkor Wat is the pride of Cambodia.

After sunrise I rode my bicycle around the surroundings, then headed back to the guesthouse and found Zeke still asleep. After rousing him, we had breakfast and headed back to Angkor Wat for the day.

We spent the day exploring a number of the ruins. The entire complex was both larger and grander than I had imagined. The artistry that Bill Gentry mentioned earlier was evident in the detailed carvings of goddess figures, elephants and intricate scroll work along the walls of the temples. There were a number of children, some begging and some selling small handicrafts. Many of them were anxious to engage in conversation and once we began chatting with them excitedly followed us through the ruins. At a couple of the temples we paid them a small amount to act as mini-guides for a short time which I enjoyed more than a formal guide. I figured that these children are the decedents of the people who built Angkor Wat and probably have as much insight as anyone to the temples.

There is probably no way that the influx of tourism can not harm the temples. Yet, it is not just current tourism that is the culprit. The temples have been pillaged repeatedly over the years and many unique treasures have probably made their way to wealthy art collectors around the world. The elements, too, have taken their toll. In some areas the jungle encroaches on the ruins, huge root systems pushing up through the stone pathways. Signs of restoration were evident and more than once I saw a local Khmer chase some tourist off of walls where they weren’t supposed to be.

I’m not sure what the solution is, not just for Angkor Wat, but for historical ruins around the world. “What are you going to do? Rope them off so you can only see them from a distance?” Zeke asked. That doesn’t seem to be a viable solution. Sometimes the best way to make a difference is not by boycotting a place, but by going and actively participating in the life there. Angkor Wat is a wonder. And while many spoke of the corruption of Cambodia’s politics, many Cambodian people are dedicating themselves to re-building their country. Cambodia is well worth visiting. Thoughtfully.

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