Here is my latest Chicago Tribune cover story, the tale of our surprising cruise through European Russia.
Archive for the ‘Trips’ Category
I was interviewed by WTTW anchor Phil Ponce on Monday (Aug. 3, 2015) about big-game hunting in Africa and the outrage over the killing of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe.
Many Americans don’t realize that big-game hunting is legal in much of Africa. However, it seems clear that Cecil’s hunting wasn’t conducted in a legal way as he was lured out of his protected habitat. The issues surrounding that horrific action are ongoing.
And it’s likely that there may be some financial fallout for Africa’s safari industry from it, particularly in Zimbabwe.
It’s very expensive to participate in big-game hunting in Africa. Some sites offer lion-hunting excursions at $50,000 per person, for example.
But countries in Africa derive much more tourism income from eco-safaries, the kind where you hunt animals in order to observe them and take photos.
It’s still expensive, perhaps $10,000 a person, but I suggest everyone should plan a once-in-a-lifetime trip for an African safari to see the animals. Europe will be much the same in 20 years, I believe. But for a variety of reasons, the biggest of which is habitat loss, the wildlife in African safari regions, is diminishing at a pretty fast clip. Get there before it’s too late.
Here is the link to the WTTW site where you can watch the interview.
Holi, India’s Festival of Colors is a raucous spring festival that can be fun for tourists.
The ancient Hindu religious festival usually falls in early March, the date determined by the lunar calendar. It’s also known as the Festival of Love.
There are bonfires and drinking, but the festival is notable because of the throwing of colors. Locals and tourists participate freely by chasing each other and tossing the colored waters or powders at anyone and everyone during street festivals. So be careful if you don’t want to participate. In any event, don’t wear your best clothes.
The throwing of colors once had particular significance as a rite of spring. Not only a time to imbibe and to frolic, the colorful powders made from natural herbs and plants were used to fight off colds and viruses that came with the change of the seasons.
The celebrations begin with a Holika bonfire the night before Holi. The next day, everyone is fair game for the throwing of the colors, no longer made from natural herbs, in parks and nearly any open space. Groups carry drums and musical instruments and sing and dance along the way.
Some men have become intoxicated and aggressive toward women travelers in recent years, so caution is important.
Posted in Destinations, Reading On The Road, Trips, tagged bedtime reading, Book reviews, Israel, Israel tourism, Jerusalem travel, Jeruslaem, miguel de cervantes don quixote, travel on April 15, 2012| 5 Comments »
I’ve had a dream for many years of writing stories that would give travelers who are also voracious readers suggestions on what books to take to a given destination. I’ve always packed carefully, given that I have no intention of ever using an e-reader, making sure to bring a novel set in the location that I am visiting.
Reading is one of my favorite things to do on a trip. And having a book set in the place I am visiting enhances both the reading experience as well as the journey. Reading Miguel de Cervantes’ “Don Quixote”” at a Spanish Parador is a different experience than reading it at home in front of the fireplace on a winter afternoon. Both have their merits, of course, but there’s something special about bedtime reading that highlights places you explored earlier in the day.
So my first published version of what I call Reading on the Road focuses on Israel, an amazing destination that I visited for the first time in January. The combination travelogue book review appeared April 15, 2012, in The Chicago Tribune members-only Printers Row section. Take a look.
(click to enlarge)
I made my first visit to Mazatlan, Mexico’s “Pearl of the Pacific,” earlier this month and found a new favorite beach town. But this city of 600,000 in the state of Sinaloa, is much more than a beach resort. It’s a city of history, a city of culture, a city of giant shrimp. It’s also a city with colorful colonial architecture and a Germanic influence that extends to the modern day and the locally brewed Pacifico beer.
After a nearly effortless experience at baggage and customs at Maztatlan International Airport, I headed to my destination hotel in the city’s Zona Dorada or Golden Zone, the Hotel Playa Mazatlan. www.hotelplayamazatlan.com. Frozen Margarita in hand, I followed the bell hop who was leading me to my room. Through a tiled corridor we went, turned left and then quickly right and wow: the Pacific Ocean, surface glistening in the sun, Deer Island lush and dark in the background. It was absolutely breathtaking. I made it a point to take this tile pathway every time I entered and exited the hotel.
My room on the fifth floor delivered another stunning view. From my balcony I could marvel at the smooth sand below, the sound of the waves disintegrating onto the shore, islands and city buildings in the distance. All of this painted a captivating portrait in daylight. But evening offered another charm: a night sky dark enough to reveal the stars and raise the volume on the waves crashing onto shore.
But, as I said, there’s more to Mazatlan than beach and ocean views:
The four-person open-air vehicles that look like golf carts and operate like taxis are fun, fun, fun and have become a symbol of Mazatlan. There’s even a monument to the Pulmonias along the city’s boardwalk. Make sure to take one from the Zona Dorada into old town at sunset. Ask the driver to turn the radio up loud. And think about asking him to stop to snap a picture of the sunset. This close to the equator, the sun dips below the horizon very quickly. The cost from the Zona Dorado into downtown is about 80 pesos.
A low-cost downtown destination for massages, facials and more. I had an incredible 90-minute massage for $25. That’s not a typo. Yes, the massage, by the nimble-fingered Evelyn, was one-and-a-half hours and it cost just $25. I also had a facial and a pedicure. I would pass on the facial next time. The pedicure was great because it cost just $12. But Aroma isn’t for everyone. It’s a funky place that looks like a combination college apartment and beach shack. Surfboards hang from the ceiling, the walls are painted bright colors and fake flowers dangle among the starfish and seahorses tacked to the walls. Pedicures are done in the main lobby/waiting room. There is no Zen elegance or muted flute music here. But I can’t wait to go back. I will ask for Evelyn and maybe book 2 hours. Make sure to have cash. They said the credit card machine was broken. A complaint I had read about on Tripadvisor, too. I would have left Evelyn a bigger tip if Aroma had accepted plastic.
Lunch at a new beachside restaurant wowed everyone in my group. The casual Alagua, which translates as “to the water” is a place I would happily recommend to anyone.
It’s inexpensive, but delivers million-dollar views and world-class cuisine. Fresh red snapper is sold by the kilo and arrives on large platters fine for sharing—or not. Shrimp molcajete arrives in the signature dish, along with onions, nopales (cactus) and cheese, with just enough spice to add a kick. But the biggest winner, in my mind, was the shrimp ceviche. I returned to the restaurant a second time on my short five-day trip just to get the ceviche and the locally brewed Pacifico beer.
About 200 commercial shrimp boats work the waters off Mazatlan and visitors can buy the fresh catch in the downtown markets. Shrimp are one of my favorite foods and eating the large, fresh camarones at many meals on this trip, was a definite treat. The shrimp I had, and saw at the market, were larger than those you usually find at supermarkets in the U.S. Some we saw in the market weighed about 4 ounces each. That’s means just four shrimp per pound. For shrimp lovers, big is the way to go.
Mazatlan is known as the Pearl of the Pacific and it has the softest sand of any beach I’ve experienced in Mexico. I loved the beach in Puerto Vallarta, about 250 miles south of Mazatlan, for its people watching and beauty. But not for its rough shore where rocks and shells mingle with the sand and are hard on bare feet. In Mazatlan, the sand is soft and I encountered only smooth sand and a gentle decline as I walked into the water.
El Centro Historico
Mazatlan is not just a beach town. With a population of 600,000, the city’s historic district, once the commercial center, has been refurbished as a cultural and entertainment hub. The roughly 180-block area is anchored by the stunning 135-year-old Angela Peralta theater and the quaint Plaza Machado, surrounded by restaurants, art galleries, jazz clubs and shops.
Don’t miss the Catedral Basilica de la Inmaculada Concepcion, completed in 1890 with a Moroccan-tiled facade, Baroque interior and Stars of David in its stained-glass windows in memory of the Jewish family who contribued signifcant amount of money to the cathedral’s completion. The colonial district is home to 479 buildings designated as national historic landmarks. The vibrantly colored buildings, fanciful ironwork and winding brick pathways are the perfect backdrop for young lovers on benches, old men relaxing at shoe-shine stands and tourists smiling as they take it all in at sidewalk cafes.
You arrive via float-plane, a visually stunning hour-long ride from Vancouver, British Columbia, to the Clayoquot Sound, a temperate rainforest on Vancouver Island’s west coast. At the dock, you’re picked up by a horse-drawn wagon and delivered to a central meeting area, what might be called a lobby at a regular resort. But this is no regular resort. You’re welcomed by workers offering almost any liquor you can imagine, as well as a fabulous selection of delectables. Champagne in crystal flutes, check. Oysters on the half shell, check. You know that a tent is your night-time destination but it doesn’t quite seem possible, amidst all this luxury.
You are at Clayoquot Wilderness Resort, a premier glamping—or glamorous camping—destination that made Conde Nast’s 2010 Gold List, was named one of the top ten resorts in the world by Forbes.com, and was the site of the wedding of actors Scarlett Johansson and Ryan Reynolds.
Before you can check in to your tent, all guests must sit with managing director John Caton for an orientation where he explains the resort’s do’s and don’ts. Do eat the fabulous meals whenever you want, not just at scheduled eating times, do pick whatever adventure suits your mood at the moment, do take full advantage of the massages and facials at the resort’s Healing Grounds Spa. Don’t keep any food in your tent. It attracts bears. And definitely don’t play with the ear-shattering air horn that is stocked bedside for emergencies. Because when that horn goes off, John comes running with his shotgun just in case you’re having an unwanted experience with a black bear.
Not your usual welcome wagon, but exotic, extravagant and exciting. The resort bills itself as “remote, refined and remarkable.” And indeed it is all of those things.
I found it quite remarkable that just minutes after leaving the orientation session to head down a gravel road to my tent, I encountered a bear, calmly walking toward me. He didn’t seem much interested in me and soon scrambled up the hillside. I was very interested in him, however, and couldn’t believe I didn’t have my camera ready to record this up-close-and-personal wildlife experience.
Clayoquot’s tents don’t disappoint: 11 deluxe guest tents and 9 family tents have comfortable Adirondack-style beds with fine sheets and down duvets, antique dressers and tables, Oriental rugs, oil lamps and temperature-controlled propane heaters. Composting toilets in cedar enclosures are just outside each tent; shower buildings with individual stalls for each tent and a place to store toiletries (which also might attract bears) are a short walk away from the tents.
The food and drink are outstanding. I’ll always remember a salmon and egg breakfast hash and the decadent cookies kept in a jar on the cookhouse counter, ready for nibbling at any time. And there’s a sommelier who often acquires small-production local wines that get bought out by experts like her before they even make it to retailers.
Activities, included in the price, are all over the map from horseback riding and hiking to whale watching, fishing, kayaking, ziplining, beach surfing and wilderness gourmet cooking lessons. I rode a horse—for the first time in more than 30 years—through a forest to the salmon-spawning grounds. Also remarkable.
You can challenge yourself with an activity every day. Or you can sit around, sip fine wine, peruse the books in the library tent and wait for someone to ask you if you’d like another cookie. Certainly refined.
The Clayoquot season runs from May through September and includes all meals, most activities and the round-trip float plane flights from Vancouver. Prices begin at about (converted from Canadian dollars) $5,400 per person for a three-night stay, based on double occupancy, for July and August trips. Prices for children under age 12, staying in the same tent as their parents, are about $2,000, for a three-night stay. For children under 4, prices are further reduced. For the month of September, prices are slightly reduced. Some specials, including one to encourage grandparents to travel with their families, are available. Check out the website at www.wildretreat.com for full details.