"If you are tempted by the awakening of your own long-dormant wanderlust, Going Gypsy can serve as a primer. . . . The questions [Veronica] poses about 'what next' are relatable ones for all empty nesters." —PBS's Next Avenue
Turkey has been at the crossroads of civilization pretty much since there has been civilization.
One thing we learned on our visit is that a visa is required to enter the country, and the last thing we wanted to do was wait in a long line… CONTINUE READING >>
Turkey has been at the crossroads of civilization pretty much since there has been civilization. Istanbul, first known as Byzantium and then Constantinople, sits at the gateway between Europe and Asia and has a long history as one of the world’s great cities.
Having served as the capital of the Byzantine, Roman, and Ottoman Empires, we found incredible historic sites at every turn. Since this was the city of the Emperor Constantine, religious landmarks were at the top of our list. Some of Christianity’s earliest churches were built here.
Hagia Sophia could be one of the most impressive structures we’ve ever seen. Not only is the building spectacular, but this massive cathedral was built in the year 532, and finished in only five years. The Emperor Justinian wanted to build the largest church in the world, and succeeded.
Centuries later, under the Ottomans, the city became of great religious importance to Islam.
The Sultanahmet Mosque, better known to us as The Blue Mosque, embodies this. Built in 1609 by Sultan Ahmed I, it is considered the pinnacle of two centuries of Ottoman mosque development.
Istanbul has long been a marketplace of more than religious ideas between continents. The Grand Bazaar – the granddaddy of all malls – embodies this cultural commercial intersection with products from all across the globe.
This is one of the oldest, and certainly largest, covered markets in the world with around 400,000 visitors each day. As we wandered the sixty-one covered streets inside, it was hard not to feel like lab rats looking for cheese.
Beyond Istanbul, Turkey has also played a huge role in the spread of Christianity prior to the time of Constantine.
The ancient Greek city of Ephesus may have been famous for its Temple of Artemis, which was recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but the apostle Paul truly immortalized the city when he was a resident for several years around 50AD.
One thing we learned on our visit to Turkey is that a visa is required to enter the country, and the last thing we want to do if and when we return is wait in a long line after several lengthy flights like we had to the first time. The solution is simple, get a visa prior to the trip.
The entire process can be handled online. No sending passports through the mail (which always makes us more than a little bit nervous), no visits to the Turkish Embassy, no photos to take, no delays, and best of all… no lines.
This electronic tourist visa for Turkey is truly one of the easiest things ever when it comes to planning an international trip. An eVisa is available from the Turkish Government for most countries including the USA, U.K., Canada, Australia, Germany, Japan, Spain, and Holland as well as many, many more.
What is the Turkish Electronic Tourist visa and how does it work?
To apply for the Turkey Tourist Visa simply complete an online form.
Fill out the details as shown on your passport.
Pay with a credit card or Paypal account.
After receiving a confirmation email you will be sent a second email with the official visa attached in PDF format. Then simply print the PDF document and off you go on your magnificent trip to Turkey.
It is important to note that the Turkey tourist visa will be linked electronically to your passport, so any errors on the application will require filing a new application.
What do I need to apply online for the Turkey Tourist Visa?
1. Passport valid for at least 6 months after your entry date.
2. Credit card or PayPal account.
3. Computer, laptop, or smartphone to visit www.iVisa.com
How long is the Turkey eVisa valid? The Turkey Tourist Visa is valid from 15 to 90 days depending on your nationality and typically comes with single or multiple entries. Visit www.iVisa.com for answers to any questions.
Apply for your tourist visa to Turkey today!
Thanks to eVisa for sponsoring this informative article. As always, all opinions are our own.
Just in time for the new year we discovered a fantastic new way to save some dough, and have fun while doing it. It’s called… CONTINUE READING >>
Everyone who doesn’t like to save money raise their hand.
Not gonna see many hands in the air asking that question, are we?
Nope, but just in time for the new year we discovered a fantastic new way to save some dough, and have fun while doing it. It’s called dealspotr.com.
When we heard about it, we had to check it out. So with no idea what to expect we decided to dive right in. What we found was a boatload of bargains, delivered with tons of fun. Think what if Groupon and Pinterest had a baby.
In the quick sign up process we entered our info and picked our interests from a huge variety of possibilities. When we finished, we instantly got a personalized feed of deals relating to them. We also got a list of other users with similar preferences who we could subscribe to and message back and forth.
We dug in and looked for deals from our favorite retailers, both online and brick and mortar, and found plenty. Then we could use them, share them, like them, or save them for later. In no time at all we were totally hooked.
We had to wonder, where do all of these great deals come from? That’s the fun part, users add them, and are rewarded for doing so. Of course our next question was how do we get in on the excitement?
It’s easy. After reading the through the instructions and tips for posting we were on our way to earning points toward our first reward, an Amazon Gift Card.
Just in case that isn’t enough motivation, dealspotr has a few features that really added to our enthusiasm by giving us goals. Each day we get a Daily Checklist. Checking items off of the list makes it more fun to earn our bonus points for finishing.
Simple tasks such as adding new bargains, verifying existing ones, or searching the sight for deals we love and passing them along or saving them for later are engaging and easy to complete. Even finding new friends to subscribe to helps us get closer to our next gift card.
Another positive feedback that keeps us motivated is our Accuracy Score. By increasing the score through our activities we earn the ability to post more and more deals, which means we can collect bigger and bigger bonuses.
If we find and post a deal that other members really like it can become Hot, or even On Fire, which helps us build a reputation and move faster to our next reward.
All of this means that dealspotr is like the Wikipedia of finding great deals, because the content is provided by the users themselves. Thirty thousand members contribute, edit, and authenticate each of the bargains, ensuring that all of the information is accurate and complete. This crowdsourcing has saved shoppers over fifteen million dollars, as well as paying users thousands in rewards.
Now, let’s ask everyone who wants to save some money to raise their hands.
OK, OK, put them back down so you can use them to go to dealspotr.com.
Are you an Influencer? Send us an email at email@example.com and we will be happy to share an Influencer access code with you. Use it to join dealspotr’s ambassador program and get an automatic upgrade to Verified Influencer status with tons of added benefits.
Dealspotr rewarded us with bonus points for posting this review, but as always our opinions are our own.
These lovely landmarks have served as air-powered pumps to keep the land above water for centuries.
As much as everyone loves to see Holland’s signature symbols turning in the breeze, technology drastically improved over time bringing about an even more impressive, if less endearing, system of enormous doors to hold the North Sea at bay.
As we drove toward the shore from Antwerp we were eager to learn a bit more about The Delta Works, or Deltawerken in Dutch.
This amazing flood controlling technological marvel has been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Created in response to a tragic flood throughout the Netherlands province of Zeeland in 1953, huge hydraulic doors at three openings to the North Sea can be closed when the weather turns nasty, preventing the flooding tides from inundating the Lowlands.
Before this solution, earthen dams and dikes protected the islands and peninsulas.
However, these proved inadequate when they gave way during an intense storm and over eighteen hundred people perished.
Something better had to be done.
The original idea was to simply dam the channels, cutting them off from the sea, but this would have destroyed the tidal ecology, ruining the shellfish industry that is vital to the area.
By using doors to control the flow without stopping the tides, the mussels and oysters continue to thrive.
Near the giant sea doors, there is a museum about the history of the flood and solutions to the problems of keeping the seawater at bay.
We descended inside a caisson underneath one of the earthen dikes, and got an inside look at the defenses built after the flood.
In a stroke of amazing luck our guide, Jan, was a survivor of the 1953 disaster.
This gave us a firsthand account, and a rare, personal brush with history, as he described the night when he was eleven years old and the flood waters hit.
Lucky for him, his family, and the entire town of Kortgene, his older brother and friends were up late celebrating a birthday when they noticed the water rising.
Thinking fast, they saved almost all of the town’s residents by breaking into the church and ringing the bells to awaken them.
With the alarm sounded, people had just enough time to climb to the upper floors or roofs of their houses and survive.
Across the low country many others were not so fortunate, as the water quickly rose over ten feet in the middle of that fateful night.
In light of the tragedy, the huge Delta Works project was designed to withstand floods so severe that they are predicted to occur only once every four thousand years. Hopefully those tolerances won’t ever be tested.
So far the doors have only needed to be deployed a few times, other than the usual testing that is done at least four times each year.
By the time the works were declared finished in 1997, they had become the largest storm barrier in the world and is the basis for several similar projects worldwide. However, the truth is that the battle against the sea is never really completed, and new reinforcements are undertaken any time a potentially weak spot is identified.
As a bonus, the massive gates allowed for a road to be built along the tops making for a shortcut to the north.
This also meant that we got to drive along the crest of the world’s most impressive water works.
Even on a relatively calm day, that vantage point kept us in complete awe of the power of the Atlantic Ocean crashing into the shore.
January is manatee mania month in Florida. There is no better time of year to see – and swim with (yes!) – these gentle giants in The Sunshine State, and Floridians go all out to show off the endangered sea cows, including throwing a festival or two.
Did someone say festival? No way we would miss that!
With temperatures plunging across the country, we thought this story from a few years ago might provide some inspiration for a great winter getaway. This year’s manatee festival is January 28 – 29.
January is manatee mania month in Florida. There is no better time of year to see – and swim with (yes!) – these gentle giants in The Sunshine State. Floridians go all out to show off the endangered sea cows, including throwing a festival or two. Did someone say festival? No way we would miss that!
In winter the Florida subspecies of the West Indian Manatee (Trichechus manatus) can be found on both the Gulf and Atlantic sides of the state seeking warm waters. Since we had seen them on the Atlantic side a couple of years ago, and especially since we learned that it was the only place where we could actually get in the water and swim with manatees, we headed to the town of Crystal River on the Gulf Coast.
The area around Crystal River has about fifty mammoth fresh water springs that feed Kings Bay with perfect seventy-two-degree water year round. The manatees come to the springs to mate, feed, or just rest and get away from the colder seas. In fact, they like the water in the bay so much that they have been known to stay even through the summer.
We made an afternoon out of exploring our options as to which of the many “Swim With Manatees” boat tours to use by bicycling around the quaint little bay side village of Crystal River. Along the way we spotted several sea cows feeding along the seawall in the bay. Let the mania begin.
After talking to a few of the tour operators, and reading up on the excursions while stopping off for a little waterfront refreshment, we were convinced that our ultimate meeting-the-manatees experience awaited us not in Crystal River, but ten miles south at Homosassa Springs. So the next day we drove on down to board our boat ready to say howdy to some sea cows face-to-face.
Another of the massive springs common to the Florida Aquifer feeds the Homosassa River, and manatees are known to swim several miles up the stream to congregate near the source. We chose this tour because it is usually less crowded, the water is often clearer, and it had the added bonus of getting to see some monkeys.
Yup, monkeys, as in more fun than a barrel of. Just after leaving the dock our boat passed by the famous monkey island of The Homosassa Riverside Resort. The five resident spider monkeys all gave us a good show, climbing trees and swinging from ropes while we cruised by. Our captain, Laura, explained how the little primates got there.
Dr. John Hamlet was convinced to move to Florida by the resort’s colorful owner G. A. “Furgy” Furgason. It seems the good doctor had been using monkeys to study the polio vaccine and Furgy, always the promoter, had the idea that they might make a good tourist attraction. After dredging in the marina created a pile of rocks just offshore from his businesses, Furgy had his monkey island.
Another fifteen minutes or so up the river and we were wetsuited up and ready to go. But first the rules. Manatees are protected by several state and federal laws, so it is strictly forbidden to harass them in any way. No chasing, poking, scaring, riding, or in any way going cowboy with the sea cows is allowed. It is not a roundup, pardner.
Captain Laura explained that it was best to try to stay still and let them come to you. And they did. A lot. They are huge, adults often reach over one thousand pounds and babies nearly half that, and they swam right up to us. Several times we had no idea one was around until it was right next to us. They seemed to come out of nowhere.
Manatees are slow moving, very gentle, and actually seem to enjoy interacting with humans, so we mostly floated silently and let them move around us. We even got to touch a couple of them, which is allowed as long as it is done softly and with an open hand. Their skin is a little bristly, with short, coarse hairs, and often covered with a layer of algae.
Sadly, as we had noticed in our land-based manatee viewings, almost every one of these congenial creatures bears scars from collisions with watercraft. They nearly all have tell-tale parallel lines across their backs from boat’s propellers. In fact they have no natural predators, humans are really their only threat, mainly from impact with boats, but also loss of habitat and pollution.
The good news is that a great deal of effort is being made to protect them and their numbers seem to have stabilized, with at least five thousand spending the past few winters in Florida.
One of the groups working to preserve the manatee population is Friends of Blue Springs State Park. For thirty years they have been raising funds and awareness with The Orange City / Blue Springs Manatee Festival. Our timing was perfect, the festival was winding up the next day. So we drove across the peninsula to Orange City to get our fest on and see some more sea cows.
The in-town portion of the festival is a really fun fair, with food, music, booths and the like, but the main attraction was not manatees – it was dogs. The Disc-Connected K-9 show wowed the crowd with the amazing frisbee catching antics of a group of well trained border collies. We even got to watch a world champion do his high flying disc catching thing.
But the festival really is all about raising money to help the community and the state park, so busses were provided to shuttle folks from town out to the park. We climbed aboard our standing-room-only coach for the short ride while reading up on the park from a brochure.
Blue Spring is another first magnitude spring, pouring forth over one hundred million gallons of water a day, and like the springs around Crystal River, the water stays a constant seventy-two degrees year round. So manatees love it, and many will swim miles up the St. Johns River to get to it.
Exiting the bus, we took a boardwalk path up to the source of the spring and got exceptional views of all sorts of wildlife along the way. Turtles, alligators, and any number of birds and fish, but the stars of the show were being quite shy. The half dozen or so manatees we saw were all resting on the other side of the river from the path, so we didn’t get a very good view.
As the largest city in the designated autonomous community, it has become the unofficial capital and economic engine that drives the area.
The Iberdrola Tower perfectly characterizes the modern aspects of this region that is better known for its mountainous rural charms, yet has become one of Europe’s leaders in per capita income and gross domestic product.
The gleaming skyscraper stands over five hundred feet high and served as a perfect landmark for us to find our way around.
Our hotel, the sleek Melia Bilbao, was just beneath it, so we could easily find our way back from where ever we roamed.
Walking just past the tower from our basecamp took us to the city’s premier attraction, the Guggenheim Museum.
Unlike most museums, the Guggenheim’s most impressive work of art may be the building itself.
Acclaimed architect Frank Gehry designed the spectacular structure along the Nervion River, carefully blending it into the surroundings while still insuring that it stands out.
Gleaming titanium walls intertwine in shapes reminiscent of waves, or perhaps sails on a ship, and seem to flow right into the water.
Before we even entered the building we were greeted by one of the most famous works in their collection, Puppy by Jeff Koons, better known to the locals as the Flower Puppy.
The four-story sculpture of a West Highland terrier puppy, covered like a giant Chia pet with marigolds, begonias, impatiens, petunias, and lobelias, has stood guard at the entrance of the museum since it opened in 1997.
But this was not his original home; he was a road dog before settling here.
For five years after being created for a castle in Germany the little hound bounded across the globe making stops at Sydney Harbor in Australia, and the Rockefeller Center in New York.
Koons has another work at the Guggenheim, entitled Tulips, that nearly fills an open air overlook along the river.
The enormous flowers appear as mirror-surfaced balloons, in keeping with the artist’s whimsical style.
While we were admiring the massive bouquet our fellow traveler, Joe, realized that he had built tables for Koons back in Pennsylvania.
Sometimes the world truly is small.
Browsing the works inside the museum during our “Behind the Scenes” walking tour, we found several by Picasso that required us to stop and contemplate, and Andy Warhol’s iconic One Hundred and Fifty Multicolored Marilyns was certainly a must see, but we were most fascinated by the work of Richard Serra.
The scale of these sculptures is absolutely mind boggling. All in all there are eight sculptures displayed as a collection entitled The Matter of Time. These pieces are made with hundreds of tons of free standing solid steel sheets large enough to fill a gallery the size of an aircraft hangar.
Leaving behind Bilbao’s bustling business district, we ventured on to the city’s other big attraction, Casco Viejo, the old quarter.
As with most medieval cities, the town was built within protective walls.
The typically narrow lanes lead to several churches, the main one being the Santiago Cathedral from the fourteenth century.
The name is in honor of the apostle Saint James the Great, Santiago in Spanish, because the northern branch of the Way of Saint James runs right through the old town.
For over a thousand years pilgrims have been passing this way on their treks to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain.
We followed it over mountain tops, along the seaside, across international borders, and now on city streets.
Still, for us it was just an additional interesting aspect of our visit.
For the thousands following the pilgrimage routes from all across Europe each year this is a spiritual, as well as physical, journey to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. Tradition has it that the remains of the saint are buried there.
We met a few of these dedicated devotees as we bopped on and off the trail during our explorations and had to admire their commitment.
There is even a movie, The Way starring Martin Sheen, about how walking the Camino affects the lives of those who make the pilgrimage.
Casco Viejo these days has become more of a shopping and entertainment district, and while passing the array of restaurants that line the ancient streets, we began to notice that lunch was a long time ago.
With dinner time upon us, which even at eight was still about two hours earlier than the locals like to eat, we realized that we’d been in Spain for two weeks and hadn’t had any paella.
That had to be remedied and this was our last chance.
With nothing more than luck to guide us we, picked one of the many eateries available to us and happened upon a good pan of the classic seafood and rice dish.
Afterwards, the plate piled with shells indicated that our mission had been accomplished.
Oh what fun it is to ride in an eight dog open sled.
We wedged our way under a comfy, warm blanket and proceeded to have most of our preconceived notions about mushing destroyed… CONTINUE READING >>
Winter getaways don’t always need to be escapes to warm and sunny tropical locales, sometimes embracing the bracing weather can lead to an incredibly exhilarating adventure.
At Jeff Ulsamer’s Dog Sled Adventures in Olney, Montana we discovered a winter option that we knew we had to try… dog sledding. Oh what fun it is to ride in an eight dog open sled.
Poor little guy is pouting because he doesn’t get to go this time
As we walked up to the lodge, over one hundred dogs were barking their brains out. To be exact, one hundred and twenty-four according to Jeff.
He explained that the barking was because the teams were being set up with the sleds, and the dogs that were not chosen to pull were pretty upset. They love their jobs! So we showered some of the unchosen with affection – they are incredibly friendly dogs – and readied ourselves for the run.
All warm and cozy and ready to dog sled!
We wedged our way into a comfy, warm sled and proceeded to have most of our preconceived notions about mushing destroyed. Without a word from our driver we were on our way and instantly all of the racket stopped.
We slid through the forest with surprising speed, and an even more surprising lack of sound. Turns out that the cracking whips, yelling of “mush,” and constant barking of the teams are just movie make-believe. In fact, we’ve never seen so much tail wagging in our lives!
In real life, the dogs respond to subtle signals from the driver. Most of these are made by shifting the sled, but a few are audible, including periodic “good dogs.” The team also works on feel, knowing when the sled picks up speed down a hill, or to pull harder on the way up one.
For over an hour we glided through Stillwater State Forest with goofy grins pasted on our faces. It was impossible not to smile watching those eight huskies pull us along.
Asking about the dogs brought about another myth busting answer. They are not necessarily pure bred huskies. They can be mixed husky, German shepherd, greyhound, and other breeds that mostly come from a line of rescue dogs that Jeff has been refining since 1979.
Through the years more dogs have been rescued, and the ones that have the right mix of temperament and desire to pull are added into the bloodline. Some might not have any husky in them at all.
In fact, perhaps Jeff’s most famous dog, Bowser (star of local parades, festivals, and fundraisers), is a Blue Tick Hound. Don’t tell him though, he thinks he’s just one of the guys and loves to pull a sled.
After the ride we warmed up by the fire with hot chocolate, fresh cookies, and some conversation with Jeff and the folks from the other sleds. Then it was time to say goodbye to the dogs and make way for the arriving next batch of riders.
As we pulled away, the barking told us that the team selection was underway, and rumor had it that Bowser was going to get to pull this time.
The home of Scandinavia’s largest food festival (you KNOW we took full advantage of that!), the best-kept wooden houses in all of Northern Europe (so uberquaint), an obsession with pony rides, and the birthplace of a modern technology – all make for…CONTINUE READING >>
When we saw Stavanger on the itinerary of our Viking Homelands ocean cruise we had no idea what to expect.
This was without a doubt the least known stop among our ports of call; in fact it was the only one that we had never heard of, we were complete strangers to the city.
Birthplace of a Technology
But if we were into deep water drilling it most certainly would have been familiar, since this is the birthplace of the technology.
That meant that the Norwegian Petroleum Museum, just a few steps away from where the ship docked, was the perfect place to begin our exploration.
The exhibits chronicle the history of off-shore oil operations on the Norwegian continental shelf since they began back in the mid-1960s.
We proceeded through a timeline of models showing how drilling platforms were built as the equipment progressed.
The first rigs sat on steel and concrete platforms permanently anchored to the sea floor, but over time flexible modern production ships and subsea systems were developed to allow exploration into deeper and deeper waters.
This can be dangerous work, as we learned in a couple of the displays, especially the one showing the twisted wreckage of a support pipe from a platform that had overturned.
Next to that, a real lifeboat sat opened for visitors to crawl into. We went inside and were shocked that it was meant to hold twenty-eight people in the cramped space.
After some claustrophobic thought, we decided that it might just be a good thing to be packed so tightly inside, considering the tossing this little cork of a capsule would take on the raging waves of a powerful North Sea storm.
Continuing through a walkway that juts out over the ocean, we entered a mock-up of an off shore rig.
The display is a scaled down reproduction that allowed us a hands-on experience of what it would be like to be at the point-of-attack where the drilling takes place.
To get back on shore, we had to choose between two doors as a way to vote on whether we think that the energy industry can find a way to address and reduce carbon emissions enough to combat climate change.
We both, and most of the people with us, optimistically chose the yes door.
The “Colorful Street”
As we worked our way into the city, away from the pier, we walked up Øvre Holmegate, a narrow street lined with brightly colored buildings that has become an attraction for visitors and locals alike because the rest of the city is generally painted white.
The cuteness factor was over-the-top, and the strip has become quite a hangout with outdoor cafes being the order of the day.
When we asked what this hoppin’ little area is called, our guide simply said, “the colorful street.”
Next we stopped at the Stavanger Cathedral, which is Norway’s oldest cathedral.
Construction is believed to have started around 1100, and finished about fifty years later.
The estimate makes sense, since it coincides with the founding of the city in 1125.
The church sits as a sort of divider between the harbor area and Gamle Stavanger, or Old Stavanger.
Unlike most of the old towns that we have visited, this is not right on the waterfront.
Instead we walked a few blocks uphill, pausing to look at a couple of whimsical statues in a small park along the way.
The first was a giant top hat next to an anvil, with a parrot and a monkey standing by.
Our clever guide walked ahead to the next one, a man with a pair of Shetland ponies, and asked us how we thought the two were connected.
We were completely clueless, so he soothed our curiosity and explained. The man was Lars H. Lende, who was renowned for his inventive ideas to make the world a better place for children.
His motto, “Alt for barna” roughly translates to “Anything for the children,” especially pony cart rides.
David immediately jumped in next to him for a photo op with his new bronze buddy.
Heading up through the gate at the end of the park, we entered the old town.
The immaculate cobblestone streets are lined with dozens of what are considered to be the best kept old wooden houses in Northern Europe.
Adding to the unique nature of Gamle Stavanger is that even after several centuries, most all of the homes are still used as private residences.
A Huge Food Festival
From our perch up on the hill we could see that the Vågen, or inner harbor where small boats put in, was packed with people and lined with vendors.
Our timing for visiting Stavanger happened to be just about perfect.
We had a wonderful summer day and Scandinavia’s biggest food festival, Gladmat, was in full swing.
About 200,000 people – make that 200,002 including us – visit during the four days of the festival each year.
After scanning the dozens of food stands and restaurants, selling everything from gourmet fare to hotdogs, we decided to give some matjes i lompe a try.
This is a very traditional way of eating matjes, which is raw, slightly pickled herring, on lompe, a flat potato bread.
The fish is topped with sour cream, beets, and diced onions, then wrapped in the lompe.
While these Scandinavian burritos may not be David’s new favorite food, Veronica loved it, and we can say it tastes better than it sounds.
Actually, we can’t really say that, because we aren’t exactly sure how it sounds since we never could quite get the pronunciation right.
Peace Down to our Toes
As we wandered on through the festival, we stumbled upon something completely unexpected, Al Gore’s footprints.
Yup, a bronze cast of the former Vice President’s bare feet are set right into the walkway along the harbor.
They are part of the Path of Peace, an ongoing project by the human rights foundation Point of Peace, which incorporates the footprints of several of Nobel Prize winners and peace advocates to form a pathway along the bay.
Word on the street was that Bishop Desmond Tutu had left some prints here too, but we couldn’t find them on our way back to the Viking Star.
One thing we did find, we didn’t feel like strangers in Stavanger anymore.
In all of our previous visits to Canada, which number in the dozens, we had never been to her political heart.
Her capital city, Ottawa, proved to be eye opening in many ways to a couple of visiting neighbors from south of the border.
Going Underground — Cold War–Style
On our way into town we stopped for a trip back in time at the Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum.
This underground bunker was constructed to be the shelter where senior members of the government and military could ride out a nuclear attack.
Luckily it was never put to the test.
As warheads got more powerful the installation was deemed obsolete and decommissioned.
Then someone had the big idea to preserve it exactly as it was and allow the curious public to see what life would have been like if it had become necessary to hunker in the bunker to hide out from global destruction.
The Iron Curtain-era technology seemed almost comical and, making it even more anachronistic, nearly every desk had an ashtray on it.
Nothing like having five hundred frightened and frantic people packed into a sealed cellar seventy-five feet below the surface chain smoking.
The Changing of the Guard is a Seriously Big Change Here
After seeing this, it seemed only natural to check out where all of the hunkered down dignitaries would have come from, so we made our way to Parliament Hill, home to Canada’s federal government.
All summer long, morning, noon and night, there are thrills to be found on Parliament Hill, none of them involving blueberries.
As we waited on the enormous lawn in front of the Parliament House with the soldiers of the outgoing guard standing at attention, we began to hear the sound of approaching drums.
Soon we saw troops, led by their regimental band and pipers, marching up Elgin Street.
The entire force was decked out in their royal finest for the Changing of the Guard Ceremony.
The Ceremonial Guard, even on this hot August day, wore heavy scarlet wool tunics and black bear fur hats.
Now that is dedication.
Drawn from the Governor General’s Foot Guards and the Canadian Grenadier Guards, to a man, or woman, no doubt they consider the honor more than worth it.
Also, it almost never gets this hot up here, so this was a rare hardship.
Wait… There’s a Queen of Canada?
With the sentries safely switched, we took the opportunity to get out of the heat and duck inside the Parliament House for a look around.
The classic Gothic structure was built beginning in 1859 and completed in 1927 and looks as though it would be right at home on the banks of the Thames in London.
While walking through building we got a condensed view of Canada’s political system.
We began in an ornate hall with portraits adorning the walls of every king or queen who has ruled the country.
Yes, Canada is a monarchy.
They recognize the royalty of England as the monarch of Canada and the official head of state.
The crown is represented by the Governor General, but the Prime Minister is responsible for almost all of the actual executive responsibilities.
With Parliament out of session we could look in at the House of Commons, where the bulk of the governing, and arguing, takes place.
The members are elected from across the country with the majority party picking the Prime Minister. They sit on opposite sides of the room and, depending on the issue, let each other have it across the floor.
In the other legislative chamber, the Senate, we learned just how different Canada’s federal government structure is from ours.
First, the senators are not elected, they are appointed by the Governor General, and second, their duty is to carefully, and hopefully calmly, examine legislation rather than engage in the partisan infighting involved in creating the laws.
Watch: Get a load of the Most Beautiful Room in Canada!
This is why they are referred to as the chamber of sober second thought.
We couldn’t possibly leave Parliament House without seeing the library, widely known as the Most Beautiful Room in Canada.
This was the only part of the original structure to survive a disastrous fire in 1916, adding to its legend and renown.
And the view from the top is gorgeous!
Once the sun goes down, the front of the building becomes a giant screen showing a spectacular light and sound presentation to the crowds of thousands that have gathered every evening since 1984.
In honor of the country’s 150th Anniversary of Confederation in 2017, the show, Northern Lights, celebrated Canada’s physical, historical, and cultural landscapes.
Just off of Parliament Hill, a watering hole named for one of Canada’s founding fathers awaited us, D’Arcy McGee’s. McGee helped create the Canadian Confederation in 1867, but was assassinated in 1868.
His namesake restaurant lives on though, serving the politicos and regular citizens of the Canadian capital with an attitude much lighter than the story of his demise.
Don’t know how the murdered lawmaker felt about a pot pie and a pint, but the pairing certainly worked for us.
In order to prepare for our next day in Ottawa, a post political adventure, we needed a place to lay our heads. The Albert at Bay Suite Hotel was more than deserving of our vote.
Our enormous room was more like an apartment than hotel, complete with full kitchen, dining area, and a living room that we could have called a committee meeting in.
Rock us on the Water
Getting away from the government, we had a chance to explore two of Ottawa’s waterways.
Our first stop took us on an utterly unexpected journey, river rafting in the heart of a city of over one million people.
While the whitewater may not have been as wild as a raging mountain torrent, the skyline views more than made up for it.
We also passed a cool and quirky Ottawa River tradition, a collection of Balanced Stone Sculptures.
Every spring for the last thirty years local artist John Ceprano has stacked river rocks in the shallows near Remic Rapids.
When winter arrives the ice and snow take their toll, clearing the canvas for him to start all over again.
For a more relaxing ride we hopped aboard a Rideau Canal Cruise.
The canal is North America’s oldest continuously operating waterway and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It was built after the War of 1812 in fear of another attack from the south.
The thinking was that an alternative route to Lake Ontario from the capital city was needed in case another war broke out.
That’s right, they were seriously concerned about America attacking, but then, they weren’t Canada yet, so perhaps they had good reason. Luckily tensions subsided and the waterway served only peaceful purposes, perhaps the most serene of those being each winter when it becomes the world’s largest naturally frozen ice rink.
We’re Flying Aces! Soaring above Ottawa in a Biplane
Having seen the city from land and water, we obviously had to take to the air.
The Canada Aviation & Space Museum just happened to have the coolest way we could accomplish that possible, a flight in an open-cockpit 1939Waco UPF-7 biplane.
After donning our goggles and leather helmets, we took off for a bird’s-eye view of Ottawa and couldn’t stop grinning the entire time.
This was unlike any flight we have ever experienced in so many ways, not the least of which was having to check our teeth for bugs once we landed.
Beam me up, Scottie!
From this ride back in time, we beamed ourselves across the parking lot and up to The Starfleet Academy.
Neither of us are Trekkies, but even the most casual fan couldn’t help but have a phasors-on-stun blast at this kitschy academy.
The hands-on exhibits allowed us to boldly go where no man has gone before, well… at least not that many men have.
Watch: Veronica gets Beamed Up!
Afterwards, we got a certificate and sent on our way to hopefully live long and prosper.
Mandatory Ottawa Eating…
We could hardly do either without some nourishment, and we found several sumptuous options in the Canadian capital.
No trip to Ottawa is complete without eating a BeaverTail.
No, not the hind end of a furry dam builder, an amazing sweet treat of fried dough covered with any number of mouthwatering toppings.
Since we were at the original stand at the Byward Market, we opted for a classic Cinnamon & Sugar and another with maple frosting.
Speaking of the market, this area has been a focal point of the city for nearly two hundred years.
Several fires have taken a toll, but merchants remained undaunted. One of them, Le Moulin de Provence, caught our eyes with an unexpected cookie.
In this political city perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised, but seeing our President so prominently portrayed caught us off guard.
The maple leaf shaped shortbread he ordered on a 2009 visit has become known as the Obama Cookie.
As tasty as these two treats were, man can’t live on pastry alone, so for some more substantial sustenance we checked out the trendy small plate restaurant play.
We absolutely love this new concept in dining because it gives us the chance to sample many dishes over the course of the meal.
With traditional portions we never would have been able to consume such a variety of entrées without exploding.
Over a couple of hours of leisurely indulging, we managed to consume frog legs with truffle and grilled endive relish, pork belly with green apple and fennel slaw, Spätzle with duck sausage, grilled halloumi with salsa verde, shrimp tostadas, onion pakora, and an amazing assortment of mushrooms.
Then we had dessert.
Getting the Snot Scared out of us!
Even though the portions were small, we still managed to stuff ourselves silly. In fact, it was scary how full we were, so we needed to burn some of it off.
Well, what better way to work off a few calories than a Haunted Walk?
As we strolled the streets of downtown we learned even more about the history of Ottawa, much of it from the viewpoint of the unjustly accused… and even executed.
No wonder their spirits continue to cry out for justice.
Touring the old Carleton County Jail – which, unbelievably, is a hostel for those who are brave enough to stay there – and especially the gallows where sentences were carried out, was more than enough to put a fright in us.
Thundering booms permeated the prison walls, punctuating the scary stories, so when we walked outside we were surprised to find no presence of precipitation.
What we did find was a fantastic fireworks finale to our Canadian capital expedition.
Your GypsyNesters fly high above Ottawa, Canada in a vintage biplane! Your GypsyNesters fly high above Ottawa, Canada in a vintage biplane! Donning our goggles and leather helmets, we took off for a… SEE MORE ABOUT THIS INCREDIBLE EXPERIENCE!>>
Your GypsyNesters fly high above Ottawa, Canada in a vintage biplane!
Donning our goggles and leather helmets, we took off for a bird’s-eye view of Ottawa and couldn’t stop grinning the entire time.
This was unlike any flight we have ever experienced in so many ways, not the least of which was having to check our teeth for bugs once we landed.
Evidence shows that people have been living here for over five thousand years, establishing it as one of the oldest seats of power in Northern Europe.
But it has only officially been the capital of the Republic since 1991 , making one of the youngest… CONTINUE READING >>
Thanks to Visitestonia for sponsoring this post. As always, all opinions are our own.
Estonia is filled with contrasts, and nowhere is that more on display than the capital city of Tallinn.
Evidence shows that people have been living in Estonia for over five thousand years, establishing it as one of the oldest seats of power in Northern Europe, while it has only officially been the capital of the Republic since 1991, making one of the youngest.
Passing through the modern business district, we easily understood why this has become known as the Silicon Valley of Europe.
Seems like we should have Skyped the folks back home, since this is where the Internet video chat app was invented.
Moving beyond the glass and steel towers, we discovered they only tell half of the story of the city’s skyline.
The other half belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage Site that has been called one of the best preserved medieval cities in Europe, Tallinn’s Old Town.
The ancient settlement is divided into two distinct areas. Toompea, or Dome Hill, is the original fortified city on a hill, which overlooks All-linn, the lower town below. Even though this high ground is home to Toompea Castle, the name is derived from the domed churches of St. Alexander Nevsky and St. Mary’s Cathedral.
The hilltop site of the castle has been a military stronghold for well over a thousand years, but now provides political protection for the people of Estonia as the home of the Parliament, the bright pink painted Riigikogu.
In a small park just a few steps from the refurbished palace we noticed a small crowd peering over a stone wall.
From this stunning hilltop overlook we got a great view of the three prominent pinnacles of St. Nicholas’ Church, the Town Hall or Raekoda, and St. Olaf’s Church, that form the medieval skyline of the town below. Even long ago this city was cutting edge, since the tower of St. Olaf’s is thought to have been the tallest building in the world between 1549 and 1625.
Eating Wild Game
After exploring the cobblestone streets, we stopped off for an unusual snack of beaver and bear at Raekoja Plats, the main square in the heart of the Old City.
Afterwards, we ducked through the dark and narrow ancient St. Catherine’s Passage that leads to a section of Tallinn’s old defensive walls and climbed up for a walk along the top of the ancient ramparts.
Wait a minute, beaver and bear?
Yup, that’s what we said.
Estonians have a long tradition of eating what we might consider exotic game, and many of the restaurants are more than happy to accommodate adventurous patrons willing to partake.
I guess we fell into that category.
Escaping the Urban
Escaping from the urban area we entered the lush, green scenery of Kadriorg Park.
Hidden away inside is a small, by czar standards, palace built by Peter the Great for his wife Catherine the First in 1718.
The park is only the beginning of the unspoiled natural beauty that extends throughout Estonia’s countryside.
With five National Parks, and dozens more protected Nature Reserves, the array of outdoor exploration possibilities can be anything from island hopping among the thousands of isles that dot the Baltic coastline, to a day at the beach, to hiking through ancient forests, or paddling through bogs.
Little did we know Estonia had been declared Lonely Planet’s best value destination for 2016 when we visited, but we certainly learned why it won the honor.
If you need a reason to get away to the islands (beside the fact that you deserve it, of course), you can feel good about the fact that your next trip can support the conservation work of the Whaleman Foundation.
We are happy to feature this sponsored post so everyone can #LetHawaiiHappen and help save the whales.
While the holidays are a wonderful time of year, they’re still the holidays…and they bring their own breed of stress.
After you spend December treating others, treat yourself to a Hawaiian getaway.
Here’s your permission to #LetHawaiiHappen.
If you need a reason to get away to the islands (beside the fact that you deserve it, of course), you can feel good about the fact that your next trip can support the conservation work of the Whaleman Foundation.
That’s right – doing good for others and yourself – is as easy as sitting on a beach, mai tai in hand.
Whether you’re looking for an Airbnb or a 5-star resort, a portion of every booking made through AllTheRooms supports the Whaleman Foundation.
1. Go Lava Spotting
Like lava? The Big Islands Mauna Loa is one of the most magnificent—and largest—active shield volcanoes on Earth.
Photographers, hikers, and adventurers alike journey to Mauna Loa’s slopes for the incredible views and the spectacular lava action.
2. Hit the Waves
Yes, we’re still talking to you.
Surfing is incredible, in that it’s a sport that people of any age or experience level can partake in.
Scope out a surf academy on Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach—one of the best spots to learn how to paddle, pop up, and carve.
3. Have a Spa Day
The best way to wrap up a hike or surf session is a hot stone couple’s massage. Or a facial. Or a full body scrub. Hawaii’s resorts offer award-winning spas, where you can spend a couple hours or a full day unwinding.
4. Eat and Drink
Seafood lovers have a lot of incredible dining options on the islands, from the original Roy’s (think upscale Hawaiian/Polynesian fusion) to fish taco and poke stands in Hawaii’s small villages.
Plus, no trip to Hawaii is complete without a traditional mai tai.
5. Immerse Yourself in Culture
Learn to hula, attend a luau, make your own lei, and stroll through small Hawaiian villages. Despite being part of the U.S.A., Hawaii is like a different country thanks to its rich cultural history and enduring traditions.
6. Get Up Close to Sea Life
Swim with turtles, watch porpoises frolic, or strap on a mask and snorkel to watch colorful fish drift by. If you find yourself on the island of Maui in the winter, hop on a whale watching tour—whales winter in the Auau Channel after a 3,500 migration from Alaska. The Whaleman Foundation has research and conservation programs right in Maui, where they work to develop whale watching guidelines to protect and respect cetaceans and their environment.
Excited yet? Once you’ve booked your Hawaiian getaway, you can enter to win a whale watching trip with Adrian Grenier and the Whaleman Foundation, in Dana Point, California.
It was almost as if we belonged in a crib like this… almost.
Truth is, it was a little before our time.
The Château de Versailles became the royal residence in 1682, when Louis the Fourteenth moved out of the Louvre in favor of the country house and gardens that had served as his father’s hunting lodge since 1624.
If you have watched the show then you know that major renovations were in order. One simply can’t rule properly from a hunting lodge.
From our point of view it looks as though the redecorating was quite a success! No wonder Louis is known for his furnishings.
We were particularly enthralled by the Hall of Mirrors, and the artwork on the ceilings, but every room made it quite obvious that it was good to be king… that is… until there is a revolution.
The royal beds – nice, eh?
But the rise of the republic did not vanquish the palace, even though many of the furnishings were hauled off by angry mobs — no cake for them — it has been restored to its previous glory.
Versailles continues to play host to political functions by hosting heads of state in the Hall of Mirrors, and housing meetings of the Sénat and the Assemblée whenever revisions or amendments are made to the French Constitution.
Nearly as impressive as the interior, the grounds have to be seen to be believed as well.
After all, what is an emperor’s country château without a garden?
We wouldn’t have to answer that question, because Versailles has the backyard to end all backyards.
Even in late autumn, we were easily engulfed by its lovely, lush repose.
T’was the night before Thanksgiving and all through New York everybody was stirring in every apartment and house.
As I rounded a corner on Columbus Avenue what to my wondering eyes should appear
a festively dressed elf, face down sticking up his…. CONTINUE READING >>
T’was the night before Thanksgiving and all through New York
everybody was stirring in every apartment and house.
As I rounded a corner on Columbus Avenue
what to my wondering eyes should appear
a festively dressed elf, face down sticking up his rear.
Certain this odd sight needed more inspection,
I turned on 81st to check out more balloon’s inflation.
While there were no tiny reindeer anywhere to be found,
a huge Dino the dinosaur was hanging around.
With no help from Santa these giants would soon fly,
after being filled with helium from a nearby semi.
As the sun began setting in the far western sky,
I thought about turkey, potatoes and pie
for our feast on the ‘morrow after the parade.
We wish all Happy Holidays and a great Thanksgiving day.
Cue the pictures of cheery Pilgrims supping with the friendly natives and images of The Mayflower triumphantly landing at Plymouth Rock.
Ah yes, all of that happy history we were taught as baby boomer children… and none of it is true.
We were not on a quest for truth when we made our pilgrimage to Plymouth, Massachusetts, just taking in a little history, but once… CONTINUE READING >>
The Mayflower replica in Plymouth, Massachusetts
Thanksgiving is upon us. Cue the pictures of cheery Pilgrims supping with the friendly natives and images of The Mayflower triumphantly landing at Plymouth Rock.
Ah yes, all of that happy history we were taught as baby boomer children… and almost none of it is true.
We were not on a quest for truth when we made our pilgrimage to Plymouth, Massachusetts, just taking in a little history, but once we were there, a little digging certainly opened our eyes.
The first hint that our 1960s grade school instruction may have been a tad embellished came when we hit the visitor center to ask for directions to Plymouth Rock. “Hope you guys brought a magnifying glass,” snarked the lady behind the desk as she pointed down the road.
Without fully grasping the gist of her statement, we headed across the road toward the monument that houses the famous rock where the first Americans landed. Giddy with the exhilaration that can only come from setting one’s eyes on a truly epic piece of history, we leaned over the rail and peered down into the hole where Plymouth Rock is displayed.
The thing is tiny. At best one pilgrim could “land” on this pebble.
On closer inspection, turns out almost everything we were taught while we were drawing turkeys using the outlines of our hands was a complete fairy tale. The actual first Americans, the”friendly Indians” from those stories, were simply so emaciated and weak from the smallpox they had contracted from previous European visitors that they had no strength to fight off the Pilgrim invaders who were busy digging up their graves, raiding their food supplies, and commandeering their fishing and hunting grounds.
Wait a minute, previous visitors? Yup, the Pilgrims were no where near the first settlers in America. The Spanish arrived in the South and West over one hundred years earlier, and other Europeans had been tromping around New England stealing food and spreading disease for decades, centuries if you count the Vikings.
So at Plymouth a few leaders of the depleted remnants of the local tribe of Wampanoag people decided to employ the old “if we can’t beat them, join them” strategy in the hopes of surviving. Not quite the gracious “hey, welcome to America, here let us show you how to grow corn and eat turkey” that we were fed as youngsters.
Plaque commemorating the National Day of Mourning in Plymouth, Massachusetts
Furthermore, this was the Mayflower Pilgrims’ second encounter with natives. The first time around wasn’t even remotely friendly. The Mayflower first landed on the tip of Cape Cod, where Provincetown is today. There’s even a huge monument marking the landing.
However, these indigenous inhabitants had not been nearly wiped out by viral onslaughts from previous pioneers and were not real big on having their buried food stores dug up and stolen, so they were decidedly unfriendly and sent the Pilgrims packing.
Hold on just a dad-blame second there, what do you mean first landed? Everyone knows the Pilgrims first set foot on North America at Plymouth! We’ve seen the pictures. There they are, stepping out of the boat right onto Plymouth Rock.
Wrong, fact is there wasn’t even such a thing as Plymouth Rock until over a century after the Mayflower’s landing. It wasn’t until 1741, 121 years after the Mayflower, that 94-year-old Thomas Faunce claimed he knew the exact rock that the Pilgrims first trod upon. A few years later, in 1774, the townsfolk decided that the rock should be moved to the town meeting hall.
But for some reason the good people of Plymouth decided that only half of the rock needed to be relocated, so they split it in two. Over the next century, the rock was moved hither and yon, and chunks were hacked off of it for shows and souvenirs. Ultimately in 1880, with only about 1/3 of it remaining, the famous stone was returned to its original spot on the waterfront in Plymouth and the number 1620 carved into it.
Over the years the lore has been woven into the Thanksgiving story until it became more legend than history. But feel free to share this real tale around the holiday table, it’s got to be better than talking about politics.
It may not have been four score and seven years ago, but it has been quite a while since we visited Gettysburg with our three young children in tow, so we were more than ready to refresh our memories with a return getaway.
The history is timeless, that part has not changed, but there are certainly plenty of reasons for another visit, first and foremost… CONTINUE READING >>
Thanks to Destination Gettysburg for sponsoring this post. As always, all opinions are our own.
It may not have been four score and seven years ago, but it has been quite a while since we visited Gettysburg with our three young children in tow, so we were more than ready to refresh our memories with a return getaway.
The history is timeless, that part has not changed, but there are certainly plenty of reasons for another visit, first and foremost being the National Military Park itself.
Of course the locations of the largest land battle ever fought in North America remain untouched, but there is a new Museum and Visitor Center since we last passed this way.
As home to the park’s massive collection of Civil War artifacts, and the fully restored Gettysburg Cyclorama, the center is a must for starting any exploration of the historic site.
We especially found the film A New Birth of Freedom, narrated by Morgan Freeman, to be an inspiring send off before heading out into the fields.
Like most folks, we chose to see the park by car (well, small RV) and follow the many roads that wind throughout the battlefields.
These have plenty of places to pull off and walk around for a closer look too.
For those who don’t feel like driving there are also guided bus tours available, or the more adventurous can explore by riding bikes or horses, or go modern on a Segway.
After an afternoon of experiencing those three turbulent days in July of 1863, we were ready to investigate our options for room and board.
Back in our younger days we sheltered the troops by bivouacking with the five of us piled into a tent, but those days of sleeping on the ground are well behind us now.
No problem, there are a myriad of accommodation options to choose from, budget to luxurious, modern to historic, and anything in between.
The same can also be said of the gastronomic choices around town. No cooking over a campfire this time.
There is everything from fast food to gourmet, but we couldn’t think of anything more fun than sitting down to sup at an authentic Revolutionary War era roadhouse.
The Dobbin House Tavern lays claim to be Gettysburg’s oldest and most historic home. The main house, which served as a hospital for wounded soldiers from both the North and the South, is now a fine dining restaurant that is accurately appointed with period pieces.
But for us the Springhouse Tavern, hidden away in a basement that was once a station for runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad, was a perfect choice. Along with the casual fare in a remarkable setting, the location put us only steps away from the National Cemetery and our evening’s entertainment.
With darkness falling, and the site of Lincoln’s immortalized address at the final resting place for over three thousand Union soldiers right across the street, we were feeling like there may have been some spirits from beyond in the vicinity.
Considering the history, it’s no wonder Gettysburg has an ample supply of ghost tours to choose from. Some focus more on the historic aspects of the town, while others concentrate their attention on the supernatural.
We were happy to have found one with a balance between the two, led by what we could call a happy medium.
Yikes! When I start breaking out the bad puns like that it must be time to wrap things up, so let me just add that for more information check out: DestinationGettysburg.com
Explore with your GypsyNesters a church carved inside a gigantic rock, a huge sculpture that proves music is a visual art, lovely domed architecture, and what has to be the most surprisingly elegant Burger King on the planet… CONTINUE READING >>
We began the day greeted by a rainbow as we enjoyed breakfast on our stateroom balcony while the ship pulled into port of Helsinki, Finland.
With Somewhere Over the Rainbow popping into our heads, we prepared for our trek into the Emerald, no wait, they call this the White City of the North, confident in the belief that there would be no wicked witch encounters awaiting.
The rainbow proved to be a good omen, since the skies cleared just in time for us to head into the city from the docks.
This Church Rocks!
Our first stop was the unique Temppeliaukio Kirkko (Rock Church), which is carved into a block of underground granite and covered by a domed copper roof.
The idea for the church was first proposed in 1939, but the project wasn’t finished until 1969.
The end result was something that definitely came from an imagination out of this world, and it looks to be tornado proof too.
Leaving the temple we came across a more normal landmark with a quick drive by of the Olympic Stadium.
The arena was originally built for the 1940 Olympics, but those games were cancelled due to World War II, so the field became the site of the 1952 Olympics.
Music as Art
Our detour from the whimsical didn’t last long though, since our next stop looked as if it could have been right out of Oz.
The Sibelius Monument, with its conglomeration of six hundred pipes reminiscent of an organ, is dedicated to Finland’s most famous composer Jean Sibelius.
Oddly, he didn’t play organ, but the twenty-four ton sculpture has been embraced by Fins as a fitting tribute to the man who became a national hero when his music helped to inspire Finland’s fight for freedom from Russia.
We spent the rest of the day exploring the center of the city on foot, beginning at the massive Helsinki Lutheran Cathedral. As we walked toward its gleaming white with gold topped emerald domes, it certainly made us feel as if we might have wandered into the land of Munchkins and flying monkeys.
The stunning church is flanked by matching mirror images of the University of Helsinki and the Government Palace buildings. These form the outline of Senate Square, surrounding a statue of Czar Alexander II.
The Finnish National Theater
The Russian ruler, who became known in Finland as The Good Czar, is credited with building Helsinki into the grand city that it is today after Russia took control in the early eighteen hundreds.
No word on whether he arrived by balloon or ever hid behind a curtain.
What has to be the Most Surprisingly Elegant Burger King on the Planet
Working our way out from the square, we were stopped in our tracks by the Helsinki Central railway station.
It’s no wonder that this was chosen as one of the world’s most beautiful railway stations by the BBC.
The impressive exterior concealed a curious secret we never expected, a Burger King.
Not that strange you say?
It is to find a fast food joint with such elegance and style.
A huge fresco designed by Eero Järnefelt dominates the wall above the counter.
The entire restaurant project was done in cooperation with the National Board of Antiquities, taking special care to protect the artwork from kitchen grease and fumes with powerful air conditioning.
The idea was to preserve as much as possible from the original historic building, including no structural changes and incorporating some of the original furniture into the décor.
Like Dorothy and friends drawn to the wizard we returned to Senate Square, but noticed a magnificent golden domed structure perched on a hill across a small bridge.
We followed the road, sans yellow bricks, and discovered that it was the Eastern Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral.
Built a hundred years ago, this is the largest Orthodox church in Western Europe.
The red bricks, taken from the Bomarsund Fortress after it was destroyed in the Crimean War, provide a striking contrast to the thirteen green and gold onion domes representing Christ and the twelve apostles.
Now we were really starting to think that they should have nicknamed this the emerald… and gold, city.
Finnish Street Food!
Below the cathedral on the edge of the harbor we found a big open air market set up in the very aptly named Market Square.
Since we arrived in the short summer season, fruits and vegetables were the big attraction and the vendors were happy to offer free samples.
We snacked on fresh cherries, strawberries, and peas while strolling through the rows of stands.
Clothing and trinkets were popular too, but food tents seemed to be the big favorites of tourists and locals alike.
The choices ran the gamut of traditional Norse country comfort foods, such as reindeer steaks and sausages, moose (which they are known as elk in these parts), and a wide variety of seafood.
One curiousity we spied at several booths was a local specialty called muikku, fried whole small fish.
Acting as adventurous as always, we ordered a plate, along with some salmon soup, before bothering to ask exactly what sort of fish they were.
Luckily they were a delicious little fresh water variety known as vendace, a cousin of the salmon, but basically a sardine.
Pan fried and served with garlic sauce, they are considered a summer-time delicacy in Finland, eaten basically like French fries.
With the afternoon slipping away our brains told us that it was time to make our way back to the ship, but our hearts didn’t want to go, so we had to summon our courage to bring ourselves to walk back.
Along the way we comforted ourselves by deciding that we wouldn’t want to stay here forever, but Helsinki certainly challenged the notion that there’s no place like home.
These words would usually be spoken by a guilty party making excuses but, in the case of San Sebastián in Spain, they describe the city to a T.
The twin peaks of Mount Igueldo and Monte Urgull form a perfect frame for the semicircular Concha Bay.The bay also lends its name to the beach, which our room at the Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterra directly overlooked.
The beautiful sandy stretch has been a playground for Europe’s jet setters since long before anybody had any idea what that meant.
The hotel was glad to welcome them. Queen Isabella II hid away here during a revolution in 1868, and a few years later King Amadeus I of Savoy stayed a while.
This was before it officially became the Hotel de Londres in 1902, but since then Henri Marie de Toulouse-Lautrec and the notorious spy Mata Hari have also been guests.
We’re pretty sure (but can’t be completely certain) that Helen Mirren was one of our fellow guests (who’d ever thought we’d ever say that?). Otherwise, she has an eerie doppelganger. We didn’t have the guts to move in close enough to confirm our sighting.
Checking out the Old Town
As inviting as the beach was, we figured it could wait, so we walked into the old town for a look around with a first stop at the Ayuntamiento, or City Hall. This stylish building was originally built in 1882 as a casino hall, where Europe’s bourgeoisie and aristocracy came for parties during their summers in San Sebastián.
As we wandered through the narrow passages of the old town, throngs of fans were busily carousing after the morning’s rowing competition. It was among these revelers that we got our introduction to pinchos.
Pintxos, as is spelled in Basque, are a typical snack of the Basque Country and are generally made with small slices of bread topped by a mixture of ingredients.
A toothpick holds things together, which is where the name comes from, “pincho”, meaning spike.
One thing we tried was not spiked, but it can sometimes have a kick, was pimientos de Padrón. These pan fried peppers are to die for. Most are mild, but every now and then a hot one sneaked up on us. As an added bonus, they were served with crispy, fried Iberian ham.
Shut my mouth, that’s some good eatin’!
A late afternoon beach visit topped off our day, an almost the perfect way to end a day.
That is until we experienced sunset, THEN it was perfect.
Let the Walking Begin!
The next day began our official VBT walking tour, and we met our fearless leaders, Txaro and David, as we prepared for the morning’s walk.
The plan was to cover the entire arc of La Concha Beach all the way from Mount Igueldo on one end, to Monte Urgull on the other.
Along the way we passed by the Palacio Miramar, which was the former summer residence of the Spanish monarchy but is now used for summer classes of the Basque University.
The palace was built in English style to give a nod to the help that the Brits gave in driving Napoleon out of the region, and the fact that the royal family was summering here helped turn San Sebastián into the popular resort that is today.
There is Art in Nature
On the rocks at the base of Mount Igueldo we took a look at a large iron sculpture, the Peine del Viento, which means the Comb of the Wind. The piece was designed by local sculptor Eduardo Chillida to interact with the wind and waves, making sounds from their vibrations.
Unfortunately—or perhaps fortunately—since it meant we got to stay dry—the seas and breeze were too calm to create any resonances.
Taking the Easy Way up
Moving along we found that the easy way to the top of the mountain is by funicular, so we voted for that.
The old, wooden cable car has been ferrying folks to the summit for over a hundred years.
At that same time an amusement park opened up at the top and it remains one of the oldest in the Basque Country.
We took a turn on the little flume ride that skirts along the top of the mountain, but the real attraction up here is the panoramic view of Donostia, the Basque name for the city of San Sebastián, that spread out before us with the Pyrenees Mountains as a backdrop.
The return walk took us back past our hotel and into la parte vieja, the old city, where we eagerly anticipated the reward of some pintxos.
Txaro led us into Bernardo Etxea and introduced us to the first of many great Basque meals.
We begin with typical pintxos, made with several varieties of seafood on bread, followed by salad and an assortment of vegetables prepared to perfection with garlic, shaved almonds, and our new must-have ingredient of the trip, jamón Ibérico, Iberian ham.
Climbing the “Other” Mountain
Feeling fortified enough to make the climb up to the fortifications at the top of Monte Urgull, we set out again.
La Mota Castle dates back nearly nine hundred years to when it was built by King Sancho the Wise of Navarre, the founder of San Sebastián.
Along with its surrounding battlements, the fortress played a major role in defeating Napoleon’s troops, so its place in history is held in high regard.
Our hearty, well deserved, dinner back at
Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterra
In 1950, in an effort to seize some of that good will, Generalissimo Francisco Franco commissioned a giant sculpture of the Sagrado Corazón, or Sacred Heart, to stand atop the ancient citadel.
This has led to some mixed feelings among the residents, due to the overwhelming dislike of the deceased dictator in these parts, but the appreciation of the Christ statue overseeing the city.
On the way back down the mountain we got to see San Sebastián framed once again.
This time looking at the picture perfect city from the outside looking in.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, would an onion by any other name taste as sweet? We think not, since most onions are hardly sweet at all. So what’s in a name? Vidalia, Vidalia, wherefore art thou Vidalia?
The only way to know for sure was to go directly to the source. We headed to southeast Georgia, halfway between Macon and Savannah to find out.
There was no mistaking our destination, all of the town’s water towers are decorated with giant onions. In fact, onions dominate almost every aspect of the city of just over ten thousand. We mounted up on our trusty bikes and cruised around on a quest to find out just how many layers of onion we could find.
We found signs, slogans and even a mascot, Yumion, prominently displayed throughout the town. Of course there were also several eating establishments proudly proclaiming the fame of their onion rings, but how could we know which of these were truly ring royalty? We asked around.
The consensus winner seemed to be Steeplechase Grill & Tavern, and it must be good because folks around Vidalia do not take their rings lightly. But the breading was light — and crispy, and plain old delicious. Served up with a sweet onion dipping sauce, yessiree, these were some mighty fine rings.
Having been steered right by the townsfolk so far, we decided to take some more advice and check out The Vidalia Onion Museum.
Everyone said not to miss it, and once again they were absolutely correct.
We learned the entire onion saga through the little museum’s displays and videos, from the accidental beginnings, right up to the modern marketing that has sent Vidalias to every corner of the globe. Turns out that the world-famous onion came about completely by luck.
Area farmers were struggling to get by raising cotton and tobacco during the depression. Then Mose Coleman decided to try his hand at growing onions. His onions turned out sweeter and milder than any anybody had ever tasted before. Soon several other farmers also switched over, and their onions were uncommonly sweet too.
Just so happens that the soil around Vidalia has very little sulphur, and that makes for a one-of-a-kind onion. Soon tourists were stopping through and asking for the sweet onions that became known by the town’s name.
But it still took one more bit of good fortune to make the Vidalias truly famous. The Piggly Wiggly chain of grocery stores are headquartered in Vidalia and when they began stocking the unique onions word soon spread.
Their fame grew until the name Vidalia Onion had to be legally defined and protected. Only onions grown within a specific area near the town can bear the name. Then, in 1986, the State of Georgia proclaimed Vidalia Onions as the official state vegetable.
In addition to all of the great history we found at the museum, we also learned that we could take a tour of an actual onion farm and packing plant.
We knew where our next stop was going to be, Vidalia Valley.
Vidalia Onion fields and Georgia Pines
They do a lot more than just grow and box up onions at the Valley, as we learned when our gracious guide, Lauren, led us into the processing area. As soon as we opened the door we were nearly knocked back by the overwhelming aroma of onions being chopped — and this was the slow season.
Lauren explained that during the peak of the harvest the chopping goes 24/7 and the smell is so strong that her hair will smell like onion for months — her stylist refuses to cut it! Wow, just think if these weren’t the mild variety.
But no one at the plant is shedding a tear, because all of that chopping is done to supply the fastest growing part of Vidalia Valley’s business, creating and distributing all sorts of onion products.
They make relishes, salsas, salad dressings, BBQ sauce, hot sauce, and even jams and jellies, all prominently featuring Vidalia onions as a main ingredient.
In fact, the versatile Vidalia is so sweet and mild that many people claim to eat them raw, like apples. We weren’t sure if we were quite ready for that, leaving us with a dilemma.
Traveling the world you may not always get the benefits and comfort of home.
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Race around Copenhagen with your GypsyNesters as we check out her art and architecture, her quirks and colors, and successfully dodge a contact high in a real live hippie colony (and though we don’t partake, we used it as an excuse to satisfy our munchies anyway)… CONTINUE READING >>
It certainly seemed fitting to sail into Copenhagen from the water, aboard a Viking ship no less.
The city exists because of the harbor, which is basically its name, København, from the original Køpmannæhafn, meaning merchants’ harbor.
Before that, over a thousand years ago, Vikings used the port and established a fishing village.
It’s hard to imagine what the hard-charging Vikings would think pulling into the port now, being greeted by a serene statue of The Little Mermaid.
The bronze tribute to Danish author Hans Christian Andersen by Edvard Eriksen has become a symbol for the city as she sits wistfully on a rock.
She’s completely unViking-like, but very welcoming to us modern-day Viking cruisers.
Near the harbor, the huge Gefion Fountain depicts the Norse goddess Gefjun and her four sons-turned-oxen pulling the island of Zealand out of Sweden to form Copenhagen.
Did our Guide Just Say the King was a “Short, Fat, Alcoholic?”
From the port, the easiest place to begin our exploration was at Amalienborg Palace, which is actually four identical palaces surrounding an octagonal courtyard.
The royal family has been living on this site for about four hundred years, including the current monarch, Queen Margrethe II.
Our guide pointed out an equestrian statue of King Frederick V in the center of the square and cheekily explained how, even though this whole complex was his baby, it doesn’t really look like him. It seems he wanted to be depicted as a god-like Roman emperor, when in the words of our guide, “the artist must have had quite the time of it; Frederick was a short, fat, alcoholic.”
Got to love hilarious honesty in a tour guide!
Much like Buckingham Palace, Amalienborg is guarded day and night by Royal Life Guards.
No, they aren’t keeping an eye on the swimming pool, these sentries are from an elite infantry regiment of the Danish Army, founded in 1658 by King Frederik III, and are much more than ceremonial.
When they are not wearing funny hats, they serve in a front-line combat unit.
King Roman god want-to-be also wanted a church built in his honor, so Frederik’s Church construction began in 1749.
Soon money got tight and the church was left incomplete and stood basically as a ruin for almost a century and a half.
When the church finally opened in 1894 it became known as The Marble Church.
So much for his big monument.
Going deeper into town we came to the Rådhuspladsen, or City Hall Square.
Normally this is a central gathering place for the city in the shadow of the impressive Palace Hotel and City Hall; unfortunately a massive reconstruction project had most of it hidden.
Checking the Weather
But it wasn’t a total bust, we did get to see one of Copenhagen’s quirky charms, The Weather Girls, perched on top of the Richs building in one corner of the square.
On nice days a sculpture of a girl with her bicycle rotates to the front, but when rain moves in another sculpture appears of her with an umbrella walking her dog.
Not exactly Accuweather, but fun nonetheless.
Government and a Sad Bear
Since we had missed one landmark due to renovations, we high-tailed it to another one nearby, the Christiansborg Palace.
This spot has been the seat of Denmark’s government since 1167, when the first castle went up.
Two more castles and a couple of palaces later, and we were looking at the home of the Danish Parliament, as well as the Prime Minister’s Office and the Supreme Court.
A rare sight indeed, since this is the only building in the world that houses all three of a country’s branches of government.
That’s a whole lot of history for just one spot, but it was a new addition to the courtyard that caught our eye, a work of art entitled Unbearable.
In the somewhat disturbing piece, an iron pipe portrays the levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide sky-rocketing into the belly of a polar bear like a spear.
The impact of the sculpture by Jens Galschiøt was immediate and unsettling.
It certainly made us want to investigate the work and what it was saying.
No doubt that was the idea when it was created in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund.
There are Hippies in Copenhagen? Yes, Serious Ones.
With our thinking being pushed a little outside of the box, we broke off from our tour group to check out an area of Copenhagen that is not a part of the usual tourist programs, Christiania.
This uniquely odd community began back in 1971 when a group of oh… for lack of a better term, let’s call them hippies, moved into an abandoned military facility.
The counter-culture squatters declared themselves to be an autonomous entity known as Freetown Christiania.
It didn’t take long for a thriving cannabis trade to develop, and the business was generally tolerated and overlooked by the authorities for years.
The attitude among civil authorities became one of begrudging tolerance, deciding that keeping things confined to this area might not be a bad idea.
But in 2004 they decided to crackdown, and after that the dealings went undercover, but didn’t stop.
Now things have relaxed again, but with some odd twists, one that we encountered as we approached Pusher Street in what is known as the Green Light District.
Booths are openly selling pot and hash, but the proprietors are all wearing ski masks or scarves to hide their identities and a no photos policy is strictly enforced.
Other than that somewhat dark underground feel of this small section we found Christiania to be mostly groovy, with folks enjoying the good vibes of a beautiful day while getting baked in a lovely setting.
Having dug the scene, we decided to split before we developed a serious contact high.
But we figured we’d check out some places nearby where folks go to satisfy their munchies anyway.
The City of Spires
A very cool landmark had been guiding our path since we set out to find Christiania from across the bridge, the distinctive spire of the Vor Frelsers Kirke.
Copenhagen is sometimes called the City of Spires because of all of the towers on its churches and castles.
But of all of them, this one on the Church of Our Saviour had been intriguing us all day with its external spiral stairway climbing all the way to the top.
Talk about getting high!
Having found both the commune and the tower, we were ready to reward ourselves with a Scandinavian lunch treat, smørrebrød.
These are open-faced sandwiches meant to be eaten with a knife and fork. Toppings are artistically arraigned on brown bread to create an edible work of art.
We went with chicken salad and shrimp on avocado, two classics.
How do we get our hands on one of these little coffee trucks?
Once again we found ourselves wondering what a Viking might think.
It’s hard to imagine one of the burly warriors accepting these dainty delicacies as a meal, but then we’d venture a guess that we might be less than enthusiastic about eating most of their fare too.
With that in mind we headed back to our ship content with our place in history… just as we suspect those Vikings of old were with theirs.
We got a taste of the 1000 Islands—and it’s sooooo much more than the salad dressing!
We wanted to see every fabulous nook and wonderful cranny of the islands. Join us as we soar overhead in a helicopter, take in Millionaire’s Row by boat, and find out what it takes to be an island these days… CONTINUE READING >>
A big thanks to Ontario Travel for providing this beautiful adventure! As always, all opinions are our own.
We wanted to check out every nook and cranny!
We got a taste of the 1000 Islands while visiting Kingston, but that was only an appetizer—or perhaps a salad.
Because the true entryway to Canada’s side of the archipelago in the St. Lawrence River is the town of Gananoque, Ontario, known as the Gateway to the Thousand Islands.
Since the day was just about perfect, we took the opportunity to see them by both air and water.
In case an afternoon shower might pop up, air got to be first on our itinerary.
An early morning stop at 1000 Islands Helicopter Tours turned out to be the ideal way to start our day.
A Seagull’s Eye View!
Once airborne, we could see for miles and miles—all the way back to the good ole USA.
We headed out across the water along the coast of the largest of the islands, Wolf Island, looking down at the eighty-six windmills—or more accurately turbines—that occupy the western end of the island.
We suppose that if we were inclined to try to verify that there are at least one thousand islands, this would be a good time to try for a count.
Instead, our pilot, Eric, informed us that there are actually 1,864 islands, which begged the question: “What officially constitutes an island?”
Captain Eric’s answer, and he certainly seemed to know his stuff, was that an island must be a minimum of one square meter above the water and have at least two living trees.
But it seemed that almost everyone we spoke to in the area had their own variation.
Of the several different definitions we heard, all were similar, but various amounts of square feet that were all close to one square meter, and sometimes only one tree, were common deviations.
No one addressed the possibility of dying trees.
By these rules, we worried that the total number of islands could be constantly changing.
Like poor Pluto, could an island be downgraded?
Enough of that, we were just happy to be soaring over them on a morning when it seemed as if we might be able to see them all.
The time flew right along with us, and before we knew it we were gently setting the chopper back down after an incredible flight.
With our feet on the ground, we took a spin through Gananoque and a quick caffeine fix at the Socialist Pig Coffee House (with a name like that, we had no discipline to resist!).
A quick walk through the park across the street and we had just about covered the town and made way for the waterfront.
Though Gananoque is really not much more than a village, she has a hoppin’ harbor where private pleasure craft and sightseeing excursion boats are constantly setting sail out to the one thousand eight hundred and sixty-FIVE islands.
In a matter of an hour, they seem to have found one more!
How are we supposed to keep up with that?
How a 1000 Islander Lives
Having seen them from above, by boat looked to be our obvious next choice.
We booked the Shipwreck Cruise on The Gananoque Boat Line, which struck us as a little strange since all of the unfortunate vessels were well under the surface.
Underwater cameras revealed each of the sunken wrecks as we passed over them.
Cool as that was, for us the main attraction of the voyage was to see Boldt Castle.
This six story stone structure was designed by George Boldt, creator and manager of the famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, as a gift for his wife.
Tragically, she passed away before he could finish and the project was abandoned.
In 1977, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority acquired the Island for one dollar—with the stipulation that all of the revenue from the castle’s operation would go towards restoration. Now, fifteen million dollars later, it looks better than ever.
The homes surrounding the castle aren’t too shabby either,
our boat floated down what’s been nicknamed Millionaire’s Row
Boldt is also said to be responsible for bringing Thousand Island salad dressing to the attention of the world.
Once again there are variations to the story, but the most common tale is that a fishing guide’s wife, Sophia LaLonde, made the dressing for her husband George’s dinners. A client, actress May Irwin—famous for the first screen kiss in cinematic history—loved it and asked for the recipe.
She passed it along to Boldt, who then added it his hotel’s menu in 1894.
The Pirates of the St. Lawrence River
St. Lawrence looks out over the goings-on of his river
The St. Lawrence River is a thoroughfare for shipping traffic, and has been since French trappers first began floating furs down the river, but we also learned about some of the less than legit boaters along the waterway over the years.
Early on, pirates preyed on shippers because the islands offered so many good hiding places.
For the same reason, bootleggers and smugglers had a heyday during prohibition.
The one and only man made 1000 Island. Regulations now
restrict this practice, so there will be no more of those
With much more lax liquor laws in Canada, rum-running became a thriving business, often hiding the contraband on an island for pick up later.
Legend has it that some of the contraband is still hidden away on a few particularly secluded islands, or maybe on some of those dots that aren’t even counted, since the smugglers would tend to forget where they put things every now and then.
We found ourselves fantasizing about stumbling upon one of those treasure maps where X marks the spot.
Our captain expertly picked his path through the myriad of islets as we turned toward home and we passed the smallest international bridge in the world between two of them.
Somehow the house on Zavikon Island is in Canada, while the tiny Little Zavikon Island just next to it is in the USA.
The owner built a tiny bridge, but not a customs office, which on closer inspection turned out not to be necessary since new technology has set the border barely below the southern tip of the little outcrop.
Hope they counted both of them.
Most folks use this bridge to cross between the neighboring countries.
Soooooo, How Many Islands Again?
In fact, that got us thinking, so we checked online at National Geographic. Certainly they would have the definitive number.
Quite the opposite, they decided to go the vague route saying only that the chain is made up of “some eighteen-hundred islands.”
This island home was an important stop on the Underground Railroad, once past here fleeing slaves crossed into Canada.
Okay, we give up!
It was plain to see that we weren’t going to solve our dilemma, and this action-packed day called for a relaxing evening.
The Glen House Resort proved to be just the spot.
Originally a collection of quaint Victorian era-homesteads and boathouses, the resort has managed to modernize without losing any of the charm it had when Trudy and Ed Seal purchased the property in the fall of 1962.
It helps that the view of the river and the surrounding islands has changed very little since then, and in the lounge they have maintained the feel of a North Woods fishing cabin.
The result is a perfect place to slow down, kick back, unwind, and forget all about counting.
After all, what difference does it make exactly how many islands there are in a thousand islands when they all look so good?
We have spent a lot of time in Italy. It was practically a second home throughout the nineties while working all over the country, but in all of our travels we never came across Bibione… CONTINUE READING >>
Thanks to the Hotel Ambassador for providing inspiration and compensation for this story. As always, all opinions are our own.
We have spent a lot of time in Italy. It was practically a second home throughout the nineties while working all over the country, but in all of our travels we never came across Bibione.
So when the Hotel Ambassador contacted us to write about their 4-star hotel, we were excited to learn about a new little corner of the country.
First and foremost Bibione is a beach town, and the Ambassador is just a few steps from the sand and sea.
From their own private area on the shore, complete with umbrellas and sunbeds, to rooms with charming balconies facing out on the water, this is a perfect spot to enjoy all the Adriatic has to offer.
The beach even has WI-FI, never seen that before. Not only that, but it has received the Blue Flag Award for its clean waters and protected environment for twenty one straight years.
No worries if the weather turns un-beachy, there is always the Bibione Thermal Baths just down the road for year round indoor and outdoor thermal pools.
We love bikes, so we were thrilled to find that the Passaggiata Adriatico runs right by the hotel and continues along the shoreline past the entire beach.
In fact, the Ambassador is a member of the Bibione Bike Hotels Club, which means they offer free bike rentals, guided group tours, and special deals with local shops.
The cycling doesn’t have to stop at the beach either; there are tons of well-marked bike paths throughout the area that are suitable for every level of rider, from just-took-off-the-training-wheels to just-finished-the-Tour-de-France.
The next thing we noticed about Bibione is that it is so close to so much cool stuff, Roman ruins, organic vineyards, the outstanding wetlands of Valgrande, and especially Venice.
The Ambassador is a great place to use as a homebase to visit the canals while avoiding the expense and hassle of staying in Venice.
There are trains, busses, and boats, as well as guided tours going every day, but for us, we can’t think of any better way to approach Venice than from the water, arriving directly into St. Mark’s Square.
Of course, no stay in Italy is complete without going crazy on the food.
Hotel Ambassador believes in embracing local cuisine, offering a wide variety of traditional dishes from the Veneto region enjoyed with a panorama view from the terrace.
From impressive breakfast-brunch and dinner buffets, to seafood right out of the Mediterranean, or maybe some of the white asparagus that Bibione is renowned for, mangia, mangia, mangia will be the order of the day.