Recent travels, thoughts, photos and more...
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Cultural Walking Vacations Worldwide
Recent travels, thoughts, photos and more...
Click on Title Link to read full article with photos
In the fall of 2007 I spent a month in Bali, Singapore, Laos and Vietnam. I spent a full week-a lifetime-in Luang Prabang, Laos and loved every minute of it.
Each morning I woke at 6 am and went to my guest house porch to watch the monks passing with the alms baskets. Daily morning fair-trade coffee at a cafe along the muddy waters of the Mekong river. Days were spent biking to local villages or nearby waterfalls and Wats (temples). Afternoon massages and evening conversations with monks and listening to 5:30 pm chants before enjoying tasting local Lao dishes wrapped in banana leaves, accompanied by sticky rice and a big beerlao.
While in Luang Prabang, I stayed at AMMATA GUEST HOUSE 37 KHUNSUA Rd Phonheung village tel (856-71) 212175 or 020-7607304 email@example.com (tell them Kathy Dragon says hello!) which I LOVED for $15/night..room 4 on the 2nd floor is a corner room with a nice view of the monks each morning from the lovely porch. Simple rooms have AC. No fridge or tv (or safe...see below!). Great little staff...wonderful pots, flowers, plantings everywhere and outdoor tables to relax at. No breakfast (really, what do you want for $15??. Make sure to go to Saffron Cafe along the Mekong for the best fair trade coffee in town. In the evening try the Big Tree Cafe (firstname.lastname@example.org) for lunch or dinner. Mi Ja just opened the restaurant and it is very good. Her husband is a photographer so check out the gallery.
My first two nights I had booked Ancient Luang Prabang Hotel across from the night market on the main st. Beautiful rooms and great staff as well as wonderful bakery/mac cafe attached..downside was the rooms on the front are VERY noisy though they offer a private balcony. All rooms have AC, fridge, tv. No safe (why would you need it in LP??). Rooms online are approximately $40 plus booking fee.
Other great places for dinner include Tum Tum Cheng (or Tum Tum Banboo-they have two restaurants now) and Tamarind, both which offer great Lao food as well as cooking classes.The Three Elephant restaurant and Blue Lagoon Cafe (best service in town) are both good. I loved the Sala Cafe...I was the only customer and enjoyed a Lao BBQ (you must experience this...you cook the food on your table with sort of a BBQ/WOK contraption that allows you to steam the veggies and cook the meat/fish.
Other places to stay: For a lower budget, I looked at the Lao Wooden Housee (brand new and very nice) at $30+/night and the Senesouk House (opposite Vatsene temple) at $25-35. The Sayo Guest House has large rooms with very high ceilings (one of the old french houses) and now has two properties, one on the water and one across from one of the Wats (temples). Rooms are from $30.
A must is the SPA GARDEN (they also own the Aroma Spa on main street) which offers more upscale massages than us generally found in LP (fyi: $3/hr Lao massages are not for me...I tried one!). For $15 the aromatherapy massage was excellent and I added another hour of back and shoulder for $5 more.
I was so looking forward to September in Croatia...the weather was sure to be ideal for both hiking and swimming; summer tourists long gone; harvest season in full swing!
On this trip I was inspecting a new boat, the Romanca, a beautiful traditional Croatia sailing boat for 16 passengers. You can spot the boat in any harbor and all eyes are upon it, definitely a beauty.
The weather turned unusually foul just before I arrived from Portugal on September 21st. In actuality it wasn't that bad, most of the days were cool and partially cloudy. The water was still warm enough however the air temperature kept us from enjoying the wonderful swimming and snorkeling which was such a big part of our June/july trip.
Food...where shall I begin? The Romanca's captain Valdo is also the owner of the boat and he is passionate about food. He has trained his chef well. Having a big grill on deck ensures most meals include freshly grilled local meats (lamb, veal, beef), seafood (squid, fish, shrimp) and grilled rather than typically boiled Croatia vegetables. See the photos to do this justice.
This itinerary ran from Dubrovnik to Split and included Mjet and a couple of islands we had not include this summer. Vis grape harvest had begun and we walked through the vineyards tasting the fresh grapes and sweet raisins. Fresh figs were in the markets and the olives were almost ripe. Walking through the local trails was a very different experience than during the summer.
The trip ended in Spilt and rather than staying there again I went on to explore Trogir, only 25 minutes from Split, closer to the Split Airport (5 min) and a wonderful UNESCO walled village on the coast. I much prefer staying there than in Split.
A visit to Sa Pa (Sapa), in Northwest Vietnam, offers contact with local tribes (ethnic minorities).
The Red Dzao is one of the ethnic groups that live in the north of Vietnam. They are called Red Dzao because they use red to decorate the clothes they wear. There are two unique features of this tribe. The first is that you can know how rich a woman is by the size of her hat. The second is that to be beautiful it is thought that women should have as little body hair as possible...thus they often shave their hair and eyebrows.
Black Hmong and Red Dzao live in neighboring villages in this region. An interesting feature of Black Hmong women is to bind the calves with material and leather string to hold it in place. This is thought to prevent this area from growing large and muscular. Small calves (and feet) are a sign of beauty for women. Black Hmong like to wear their hair over the crown of their heads. Often wigs made of horse's tail are used to add more body to the bun and then wrap it to form a tall “pin box” type hat.
It was told to me that women generally marry around the age of 16, at that time men often “steal” these young women and bring them to their homes. If the woman refuses to eat for three days she is let go to return to her home. Should she take food, she is “accepting” of the man and will likely marry.
This minority group is also said to pick up languages very quickly. Many of the women selling textiles in town have picked up english and possibly french from the tourists and may end up becoming local guides.
I met this woman during a walk to the village of Ta Phin,Ta Phin, a lush valley nine miles out of Sapa near Sapa and spent the morning with she and her friends, visiting one woman’s home and watching the rice harvest.
In Spa I stayed at Chau Long Hotel (new wing) in Sapa before heading out for my homestay experience in the Tay village. I then on to the Topaz Eco Loge (aprox one hour drive from Sapa).
February Itinerary to Jordan: Jordan Travel Mart. Review to Follow!
Feb. 15 Amman , Jordan
Feb. 16 Jerash / Ajloun
Jerash, one of the most well preserved Roman Cities in the world, is close second to Petra on the list of favorite destinations in Jordan. The ancient city of Jerash boasts an unbroken chain of human occupation dating back more than 6,500 years.
Ajloun, is the city where the Ajloun Castle (Qal'at Ar-Rabad) is located. It was built by one of Saladin's generals in 1184 AD to control the iron mines of Ajloun and to deter the Franks from invading the city.
Feb. 17 Bethany beyond the Jordan / Voluntourism Holy Land Institute for the Deaf
Bethany beyond the Jordan, where Jesus was baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist, in fulfillment of the Scriptures. In this simple wilderness, the heavens opened and the first recorded revelation of the Trinity occurred. There, Jesus began his public ministry – and Christianity was born.
Feb. 18 Amman City Tour / Mt. Nebo / Madaba / Kerak (Overnight in Petra)
Amman, the capital of Jordan, is a fascinating city of contrasts – a unique blend of old and new, ideally situated on a hilly area between the desert and the fertile Jordan Valley
Mount Nebo, where Moses viewed the Promised Land and is said to be buried, is the location of a basilica church that has one of the most magnificent mosaic floors in the world. From the platform in front of the church, visitors have an inspiring, breath-taking view across the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea to the rooftops of Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Madaba, “The City of Mosaics” – is where visitors can visit the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George that features a vivid sixth-century Byzantine mosaic map showing Jerusalem and other holy sites.
Kerak, is the location of the most impressive remains of Crusader forts and outposts. Kerak Castle, high atop a promontory, is a maze of stone-vaulted halls and endless passageways.
Feb. 19 Petra (Petra Kitchen & Overnight in Petra)
Petra, is one of the great archaeological treasures in the world, undoubtedly; it is the most important famous attraction of Jordan. Much of Petra's appeal comes from its awesome, multicolored sandstone high mountains; it is a secluded site of steep rocky slopes, towering craggy mountain tops and high cliffs, into which most of the celebrated tombs, facades, theatres, and stairways of this Nabataean city are carved…Nature and architecture concur into conferring a mythical aura to the site.
Feb. 20 Little Petra / Wadi Rum (Overnight in Wadi Rum)
Wadi Rum is a stupendous, timeless place, virtually untouched by humanity and its destructive forces. There, it is the weather and winds that have carved the imposing, towering skyscrapers, so elegantly described by T.E. Lawrence as “vast, echoing and god-like”.
Feb. 21 Aqaba (Overnight in Aqaba)
Aqaba, Jordan’s splendid Red Sea resort is a fun place to visit. It is a microcosm of all the good things Jordan has to offer, including a fascinating history with some outstanding sites, excellent hotels and activities, superb visitor facilities, good shopping, and welcoming, friendly people, who enjoy nothing more than making sure their visitors have a good time.
Feb. 22-25 Dead Sea (Jordan Travel Mart)
Dead Sea, without doubt, is one of the world’s most exquisite place. At the lowest point on earth (over 1,312 ft. below sea level), this vast, stretch of water receives a number of incoming rivers, including the River Jordan. Once the waters reach the Dead Sea they are land-locked and have nowhere to go, so they evaporate, leaving behind a dense, rich, cocktail of salts and minerals that supply industry, agriculture and medicine with some of its finest products.
FRESH WHITE TRUFFLE
White truffle (Tuber Magnatum Pico) is the biggest and the most respected sort of truffles, its price on the market varies from hour to hour. It is a truffle of yellow-brown, green or grey-green colour. Its aroma is more intensive and stronger than aroma of the other sorts of truffles and depends on the plant with which it is living in symbiosis.
It is taken out in the period from October till the end of December (the white truffle season) and then it can be bought fresh. The most famous sites of white truffles are in Istria near the village Livade, more exactly in Motovun woods and in the valley of the river Mirna. This truffle needs special climate, quality of soil and certain plants with which it lives in symbiosis. It grows under the ground and there is no visible stalk on the surface. It is excavated from the depth of 10-15 cm, and searched for by the specially trained dogs. The size of the white truffle varies from the size of a cherry to the size of an apple.
The biggest truffle ever found weighed 1,310 kg. Mr. Giancarlo Zigante found it on November 2nd, 1999 near Buje and it has entered into the Guinness book of records.
Exploring Istria this fall was a perfect end to my two weeks in Croatia. Yes, I'd heard Istria might be the new Tuscany but needed to see it to believe it. (Photos!)
Much of the peninsula is caught between mass tourism, holiday homes and horrid communist era buildings. That might be enough to keep you away...it shouldn't be.
Move into the interior of the region and you'll find the walled hill villages, Romanesque churches, family-run oil, cheese and wine producers, eclectic galleries, affordable "konoba's" (small restaurants serving local dishes), clean/comfortable family run hotels or "sobe" (rooms) and apartments for rent.
Along the coast their are still a sampling of wonderful towns, like Ravinj, which if we are comparing to Italy reminds me of the towns along the Ligurian Coast including those of the Cinque Terre.
Typical of Croatia, local are friendly, engaging and interested in sharing their country with you. They are likely to invite you into their home, wine cellar or shop with a smile....something difficult to find these days in Tuscany or Provence.
Motovun and ROVINJ are great basis for 2-3 nights, one on the coast and one in the interior. You'll find good biking and walking routes, a variety of "wellness" centers, and all sorts of events involving local food such as the wild asparagus (spring), grape, olive and truffle (fall) as well as culture festivals throughout the year.
Here's a sample:
"Throughout the whole month of October, in the Mirna valley – in Opatija, the Istrian thermal springs, Gradinje and Motovun – the festivities of the “Days of truffles” are held. During these days it is a special experience tasting dishes made from freshly picked truffles, these noble, tasty aphrodisiac mushrooms, including many other programs. Along with the month long “Days of truffles” festivities, Motovun, in the first weekend in November, plays host to the “Festival of balloons, wine and truffles”, a manifestation whose gastronomic pleasures are enriched with an air of adventure."
Access is easy from Pula or Zagreb (Croatia), Lubiana (Slovenia) and Triest or Venice (Italy). You'll want a car if you aren't with a tour group. Most folks speak some english and many of the menus are in English.
I left camp at 1:00 am and began the long hike slowly in the darkness on a switchback trail through loose volcanic scree to reach the crater rim at Gillman's Point (5685m,18,650ft).
Though I started an hour later than most I still made it to Gillman’s far too early and very cold. Not what I needed to be told to slow down in order to make the summit for sunrise at Uhuru Peak. At that point I could have cared less about the sunrise and just wanted to hit the point and go back down. However, I slowed down, froze further if that is possible, and arrived at the peak at 6:20am. The sunrise is incredible and definitely the highlight of the hike. The glaciers of course make it all worthwhile. Less than two weeks earlier I had been viewing the Patagonian Ice-field Glaciers and now here I was in Africa.
The route back to Gillman’s allows for photo time and ideally to let the sun start to warm you. The descent, about 2 solid hours surfing scree, seemed endless. Back to camp for 45 min then a 6 miles walk to Horombo that seems pleasant at the start and then unending two hour later.
a few of my recent videos