Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Don't be a tourist, become an adventurer

With the year coming to a quick close, thoughts of where to head next year pop into mind.

Of course, the Smoky Mountains are a given. We just love the area and the experience.

The West Coast, which usually means San Francisco, is a possibility since we haven't been there in a couple of years.

We have gotten away from a stated goal of seeing at least one new country each year.

We could take a cruise out of New Orleans and add Honduras.

But then again, we haven't been to Europe in a long time and Linda, my wife, wants to add London since we've already been to Paris and Rome.

I would like to take a northern Europe cruise which could put us into another six or seven countries. I especially want to visit Russia and once upon a time I wanted to take the long journey on the Trans-Siberian railway. Poland is another possibility since it is homeland to my deceased father's side of the family. 

There is just so much out there.

But one thing I can't seem to wrap my travel mind around is a journey to South America.

I just don't know what it is.

I always thought about visiting Rio, seeing the ruins at Machu Picchu in Peru, and sailing to the Galapagos Islands.

Someday that may happen, but meantime next year we'll just keep on heading down the road, not as tourists, but travelers of the world.

Merry Christmas and happy travels during the new year.

Next post: Not until January 4, 2011

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bellingrath Gardens continues to amaze

Timed exposure while zooming 18-200 lens

Nothing stays the same. Everything changes.

Everything that is  but the beauty that is the decorations at Bellingrath Gardens just southwest of Mobile, AL.

For the second Christmas holiday season in a row, we journeyed to the gardens -- this year with our son, Jeremy, his wife Katie, granddaughter Molly Kate, grandson Walker and my mother "Sugar."

The previous year the temperature was nippy but not bad, the clouds held a little rain and whatever day it was that we went, there was not a great big crowd.

My, how different it was this time -- on a weekend Saturday in December.

The temperature was mild, stars were evident. Vehicles were bumper to  bumper heading into the garden parking area. The parking lot was stuffed . Visitors were directed to park along the roadside.

And the line for tickets was extremely long.

Amazingly, the line moved quickly and before we knew it, we were enjoying the great holiday scenes.

The path was well-marked as we snaked our way through overhanging decorations, alongside majestic trees and great themed areas.

My mother was in a wheelchair which was easily maneuvered throughout the gardens with very little extra effort needed to make it up and down the inclines.

All in all, it takes about two hours to really enjoy the visit and all the scenes. We enjoyed every minute.

Next post: December 14, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Callaway Gardens, a holiday delight

Christmas decorations and entertainment are something else at Callaway Gardens outside of Pine Mountain, Ga.

A number of years ago my wife Linda and I decided that on our Thanksgiving trip we were going to visit the area and see what it was all about.

The first visit there and subsequent trips were exceptional.

On our first journey, we decided to participate in the March of Dimes fundraiser. Participants would pay the entrtance fee, but had to walk the five-mile route.

Hundreds, nay, thousands participate each year in the event. We saw children of all ages, from infants being pushed in strollers and small wagons, to the elderly enjoying the event with their children and grandchildren. It was great to not have to worry about motorized vehicles.

It seems the one-night event is a tradition for a lot of people.

That particular night, the skies were overcast, and there was a light drizzle that continued for the whole trip.

But it didn't matter. The decorations were exceptional. I especially enjoyed the stretch of road where white lights were everywhere, on the trees, bushes and strung across the the roadway. So simple, yet so breathtaking.

We subsequently went the following two years with our Georgia brood, but because of the small children involved, we decided to go on nights where we could ride the tram.

There is also a huge commercial area at the gardens which offers hundreds of gifts and decorating ideas, not to mention a variety of foods that were available for purchase.

The cost of the ticket for the nighttime event also allows people to return the next day to visit other areas of the gardens.

Next post: Dec. 7. 2010

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

And early thanksgiving to my wife

My wife is something else.

I lovingly describe her as someone who can get down and dirty (in the garden or fishing or camping) as well as cleaning up pretty good when we want to go to the other extreme.

I also like the fact that she enjoys going to Coffee Fusion, our local spot, just as much as I do.

We have both offered going to Coffee Fusion as an excuse to get away from housework.

Over the course of our married life, some 43 years, she has gone far and wide with me. It helps that she also has an interest in photography and writing.

Back in 1977, she and I quit our newspaper jobs. We traveled around the U.S. over the course of a year living out of an old Chevy van. Our five-year-old son was with us.

That was the beginning. Since then, Linda and I have visited Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Paris, Rome, Florence, Venice, all but four of the states, Mexico, Belize, Canada and Guatemala.

We have enjoyed the extreme of camping in the Great Smoky Mountains and other national parks, while also enjoying our stay at an upscale place (Harbor House) in northern California.

We've adapted and changed. Driving 14 hours a day use to be the norm. Except for  going to the Smokeys (600 miles away), we have cut back on the long stretches. And we stop more often (she's not the only one that needs rest stop breaks more often).

She still likes to travel, and for that I am very thankful.

Next post: Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2010

Rio Grande Gorge west of Taos, New Mexico

 The Four Corners area of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona

 Hiking outside of Bluff, Utah

 Enjoying breakfast at a Florence, Italy hotel

 Our favorite camping location in the U.S.

Grandsons Nate, left, and Luke enjoying Nana's company

Checking out farmer's market in Florence, Italy

 Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield, Calif.

Treve Fountain in Rome

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Free-styling for two -- that's what I like

My wife and I have only been on two cruises.

Both had great amenities, but I really like the Norwegian Cruise Line with its Free Style Cruising.

Why? Because I am selfish.

My major requirement is a table for two and that is what Norwegian offers. I intermingle with people throughout the work year. And so does my wife. But it is as though she is there, but not with me.

On vacation, I want her to be with me. That's just the way I am. I am not interested in a table for six or eight where there is so much noise it is hard to carry on a conversation, even with the person sitting next to you.

We have numerous family vacations throughout the year with up to 20 or more people, and this is fine.

But . . .

We journeyed from New Orleans on an Easter week trip a few years ago. The weather was fantastic and the seas accommodating. With my mother throwing in a Christmas gift for a cruise, we added a little more and got a balcony room.

It was great!

Seven days on the high seas that included visiting Belize City, Costa Maya, Cozumel, and Puerto Santo Tomas de Castilla.

At almost each and every meal, we selected a table for two. That is just what I wanted. 

And I appreciate the company offering that option.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Let the entertainment begin

  Playing to the parakeets and others in Rome

Traveling, whether far away or not, can enlighten one about places and things with all the sites that are available to visit and the smells that set places apart.

But there is another aspect.  

San Francisco artist works with paint and fire 

And that is people who populate those places, whether they be artists, entertainers or just common day folks providing a service for those visiting the area.

Sidewalk chalk used to create streetscape in Florence

Over the course of recent travel, we have run across our share of such citizens of the world.

Mostly, while traveling, one shoots pictures and doesn't bother to get all the names of people in their pictures (or either we get the name and it gets misplaced among our travel folders). I am of that disposition.

 Waiter in Roman restaurant along the Tiber River

 Musician in San Francisco

Walking tour guide (right) in San Francisco's North Beach

Singer, guitar player in Taos, NM

Venetian student (right) helps us find our way

Next post: Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Venice, its just appealing to me

A few years ago, my wife and I took a 10-day trip to Italy.

It was in November just before Thanksgiving. The weather was good, the food was great and the historic sites, of course, outstanding.

We spent three nights in Rome, three in Florence and three in Venice.

My wife's favorite place to return would be Rome. Rome was great. It was also a bigger place than the others. Therefore more cathedrals, museums, etc. to see, which my wife likes.

Florence had its charms. And if memory serves me correct, I happened into a cathedral that was out of the way, but it gave me a better feeling than even St. Peter's in Rome.

But for just a more relaxing time, I would pick Venice.

Why? Well, for one thing, no cars! No stop lights, no speeding vehicles, no motorcycles. No honking horns. Just pedestrians which are easy to  maneuver around.

Another would be the fact that because it is a smaller area, the main tourist area tends to bring a lot of people together. I like people watching.

Whereas, some like to see all the sites, I get enjoyment from just being in the moment, wherever it is. Just to be there is great. 

I've never sat at a sidewalk cafe for hours on end just watching people. But If I were to return toVenice, I would probably find such a place (while my wife looks for another hundred or so cathedrals and museums to visit)..

Don't get me wrong. There is a lot of walking to be done in Venice. And a lot of wrong turns that turn into interesting routes. And if you're there at the wrong time, St. Mark's Square could be a couple feet deep in water. We lucked out.

But there is just an aura about the city and the area, and that translates into an enjoyable time for me.

We always entertain the idea of visiting again . . .