Archives for November 2015

Don’t Even Think About Skipping Dunedin, New Zealand

When researching a trip to New Zealand, you will inevitably hear a ton being made of the eternal North Island versus South Island debate. In this discussion, many online experts – and I use the term loosely – will mention that the North Island is more urban and better for those who prefer cities, while the South Island is better for those outdoorsy types that prefer rural environments and dramatic mountainous scenery.

While there is certainly a touch of truth in this simple assessment, we found both city and country thrills on both islands, and in my opinion, one of the best cities to experience urban thrills on the South Island is Dunedin. We stayed there twice as along as we expected because we loved it so much, and while being the second biggest city on the South Island, it still seems to slip under the radar of many travelers to New Zealand.

Well, I say don’t skip Dunedin, because it would probably be the biggest mistake of your life if you did. Well, easily in the top 10.

dunedin new zealand

Terrific Train Station

An excellent example of Renaissance Revival architecture, or to dumb laymen like me “Candyland Castle”, The Dunedin train station is truly a sight to behold. Opened around the turn of the 20th Century I think, this unique building was once New Zealand’s busiest train depot, but now is home to scenic tourist trains, most notably a line to Taieri Gorge. A trip out on one of these is certainly a great day out, but if you don’t take a day trip, make sure to swing down on a Saturday where there is a farmer’s market in the parking lot and get yourself a bacon sandwich like we did.

dunedin new zealand

Tasty Tours

Dunedin is home to not one, but two delicious guided tours you shouldn’t miss. The first is the Cadbury Factory, which is home to a thrilling stroll through the place where creamy milk chocolate magic is made – plus plenty of free samples. Just a few blocks away is the Speights Brewery, where the beer that calls itself the ‘Pride of the South’ has been made since the late 1800s. A tour is a great way to learn about the history of this beer and sample some fresh brewed pints. And if you’re worried that chocolate followed by beer is a bit unhealthy: don’t, because you’re on vacation and calories don’t count.

dunedin new zealand

Steep Streets

Dunedin sprawls out spectacularly from its hard-working harbor, cascading up the surrounding hills providing fantastic vantage points down on the town below. The fantastic views of the twinkling city lights make the treks up the hills well worth it and many restaurants feature million dollar views. One street in particular, Baldwin Street, is the world’s steepest residential street in the world according to Guinness and definitely worth scaling – you know, so you can say you did.

Safety tip: As tempting as it may be, it is not recommended to attempt to roll down the concrete street end-over-end.

Cheap (and Delicious) Street Eats

Being home to the oldest university in New Zealand – Otago University – Dunedin is awash with cheap and delicious food, many of it Asian-influenced. We used to eat ‘rice balls’ for lunch religiously on George St. A ‘rice ball ‘ is basically the best bits of sushi all rolled into one large sphere, and these bad boys would keep us full until dinner, for only a few New Zealand Dollars.

dunedin new zealand

Chill Beaches

Due to its location directly on the coast, Dunedin is directly near some beautiful beaches, and while the water can be a little bit on the chilly side, they are well worth the shivers. St. Clair Beach is home to a great stretch of sand surrounded by hip cafes and a heated pool (if you prefer freshwater swimming) and slightly further down the coast you will find Tunnel Beach, a hauntingly windswept gem often referred to as the most romantic in the New Zealand.

 

This post originally appeared on TravelPulse

Travelly Picture: Edam, Holland

We went to Edam – yes the same Edam from the cheese –  for the day once, and it was a pretty little place. We walked around and ate fried fish and smoked eel and tasted dairy products.

I also took this picture.

edam, holland

Just Spin, Baby: A Night With the Whirling Dervishes in Konya, Turkey

whirling dervishes konya

The Whirling Dervishes are hands down one of the most ingrained images of Turkey for travelers. Members of an ancient religious sect (or something like that), the Whirling Dervishes are famous the world over for spinning in a mesmerizing trance-like state in order to honor God.

They also wear really cool hats.

While the Whirling Dervishes can be seen in a few places around Turkey, their home base is Konya, where they typically perform every Saturday night. We were lucky enough to be there for a hometown show, and here’s a play-by-play of our evening:

4:15 – Arrive in Konya and make our way to the hotel. It’s immediately evident that Konya is a nice-looking town made up of businesses, streets, pretty mosques, and – hey, would you look at that! – huge piles of sheep hides on the side of the road.

5:00 – After checking in, we head out for a mediocre dinner at the first place we see. It is a well-known rule that you are required to have a mediocre dinner at the first place you see after a long travel day, and this joint doesn’t disappoint. Well, it does, but you know what I mean.

5:42 – We head off to the stadium, I mean ceremony venue, and as if there was any doubt at what the Whirling Dervishes mean to Konya, we notice on our way that there are neon signs of the Whirling Dervishes attached to the light poles in town. I have only previously seen this sort of thing for sports teams in America, so they’re definitely a big deal here.

whirling dervishes konya

6:45 – After a bit of tailgaiting, the doors open to the ceremony hall and the scramble is on for the best seats. We are lucky to score two seats only a few rows up from the field, erm, praying floor.

7:00 – A gentle, gracious, and no doubt saintly old man appears and formally welcomes all of us to the ceremony. He details the importance of what we are about to see and the fact that these Dervi (as I am now calling them – a la the Flying Elvi from Honeymoon in Vegas) have practiced years for this. He kindly reminds us to have the utmost reverence for what we are about to see by remaining quiet and, above all, refraining from using flash photography.

7:05 – The Whirling Dervi enter the room, the lights go out, and the flash photography goes off like the Fourth of July. The nice old man just asked us thirty seconds ago to not use it, and now these people are flashing away like there’s a contest to see who can blind the most Dervi.

Man, us tourists suck sometimes.

whirling dervishes konya

7:30 – The Dervi are all in their places, and their leader is illuminated at the top of the floor by a ghostly light. Haunting music begins playing, and then slowly, one by one, the Dervi approach him, receive a blessing, and then take to the floor gently spinning with arms outstretched and attention focused on the heavens above.

8:00 – The floor has now been filled by Whirling Dervi and with the music playing, this truly feels like a worldly experience, the kind you travel for. The ceremony seems of another world, and I am honored to be here. The fact that the tickets were free is only a small part of why I am enjoying it so much.

8:45 – A rousing round of applause and chants of “One more whirl!” “One more whirl!” echo through the hall as the Whirling Dervi quietly exit the room, denying the crowd an encore but giving us all a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

 

 

This post originally appeared on TravelPulse

Travelly Picture: Trees in Thailand

This is a picture of trees I took on some island in Thailand.  Oh, and some huts.

Ko yao noi thailand

Best Places Off the Beaten Path in Europe for 2016

It’s that time of year when people start looking ahead and making travel plans, and for many of us that will mean a trip to Europe. Since it’s always fun to discover a few hidden gems when you’re there, here are a few of the best places in Europe off the beaten path that you may not have heard of before.

off the beaten path Europe

London, England

Located only a few short hours south of Manchester, London has a rich and colorful history dating back to medieval times. This under-the-radar city is generally recognized as a global hub of business, culture, and even hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics. Despite all of this, the quaint city is skipped by many. This is a huge mistake as London is full of enough sights to keep most travelers busy for an entire long weekend. Upon arriving at one of London’s numerous sleepy airports, train stations, or bus terminals, those in the know head straight for the banks of the mighty Thames river where a historic clock tower near the Parliament building is located. Known affectionately to locals as ‘Big Ben’, the clock tells Londoners what time of the day it is, and many use it to schedule their meetings, meals, and social events. Another sight worth seeing in London is a stately home called Buckingham Palace where men in red suits with large black hats live and prance publicly.

Insider Tip By Someone Who Lives There: Spend an afternoon riding on the London Eye, a large observation wheel, because there is nothing else remotely like it in the world.

off the beaten path Europe

Paris, France

Nestled in the heart of northern France, Paris pleases all who visit it with a dizzying array of culinary delights, historic sights, and a ten-thousand-ton triangular iron tower. Put on the map by the 2007 film Ratatouille, Paris has been rising in popularity ever since, but if you hurry, you can still see this so-called City of Light before it shines too bright. The Eiffel Tower in the center of the city may be easy to spot, but you’ll be amazed at the solitude you’ll experience underneath its massive legs or during a climb of its steps to the observation deck. Other sights in Paris worth seeing are the Louvre museum, best known for its role in the book The DaVinci Code, and the Arc de Triomphe which is a large block of cement with a massive hole in it.

Insider Tip By Someone Who Lives There: Don’t even think of leaving town without trying some of the fabulous food Paris is becoming famous for like French Onion Soup, French Bread Pizza, and French’s Mustard.

off the beaten path Europe

Rome, Italy

A historically historic city located in central Italy, Rome offers those interested in civilizations an unrivaled amount of things to do and see – easily enough for a day or two. The Colosseum is a relatively unknown ancient ruin in town that used to be a venue for gladiator games and rivals the Los Angeles Colosseum for beauty and historical significance. Rome is known as a great city for lovers, and the Trevi Fountain is hands-down the best spot in Rome for them as its flowing water and solitude make it the perfect place for whispering sweet nothings. Legend has it that if you throw a coin into its waters and make a wish, you will return to Rome, a tradition unique to this fountain and this fountain alone. There is also a man named The Pope who lives in Rome, and if you like white hats or religion, a visit to see him is a must..

Insider Tip By Someone Who Lives There: Restaurants abound in Rome, but the best ones display pictures of their food on plastic cards hanging out front of their establishment.

 

Photo Credits: 1,2,3

You’d Have to be Nuts Not to Go to Patzcuaro, Mexico

Patzcuaro

During our time in Mexico, we hit most of the usual suspects as far as popular tourist spots are concerned – Tulum, Mexico City, Playa Del Carmen to name a few – but we struck true gold when we went a bit further afield by spending a few weeks in Patzcuaro. Located 5 hours west of Mexico City in the beautiful state of Michoacan, Patzcuaro, Mexico has everything you could possibly want in a cozy and quiet colonial escape. Here are a handful of the best reasons for visiting Patzcuaro and not being a crazy person.

Haunting Lake Patzcuaro

While Patzcuaro proper is a shiny gem, its enchanting namesake lake vies for a swath of the spotlight. The silty brown body of water and her islands are steeped in indigenous spirituality, as ancient peoples believed the barrier between this world and the next to be very thin here. Ferry rides to the islands are available, with the most popular being Isla Janitzio, home to a small population of people but hundreds of winding steps that lead up to a massive statue of Mexican revolutionary leader José María Morelos. If you’re lucky, on your way to the island, you’ll get treated to a display of fishermen using old school butterfly nets to catch fish – and your tips – in a traditional way.

Patzcuaro

The Grand Plaza Grande

The beating heart of Patzcuaro, Plaza Grande is lined by historic maroon-red and ivory-white buildings and an arched arcade. In our three months in the country, we never saw another square quite like this one color-wise, and like most Mexican town plazas, it becomes a beehive of fun in the evening. Whether you walk hand-in-hand around the fountain or choose to sit at one of the numerous cafes lining the plaza enjoying a slice of cake, you are in for a good time. Be sure to end your night on a sweet note with a scoop or two of homemade ice cream from the vendors lining the plaza.

Legendary Day of the Dead

Patzcuaro is famous throughout Mexico for the reputation of its Dia de los Muertos celebrations, and if you happen to find yourself there in early November, you are in for a true treat. As all the towns around Lake Patzcuaro celebrate Dia de los Muertos passionately – remember what I said about the Lake being a portal between this world and the next – Patzcuaro becomes the capital of festivities and is home to a frenzy of food, drink, and craft-making. This holiday is a quintessential Mexican experience, and Patzcuaro’s spiritual roots make it extra special.

Patzcuaro

Temple Sagrario

While not quite as aesthetically pleasing as the town’s Basilica, the Temple Sagrario’s faded stone walls and ancient arches made it my favorite sight in Patzcuaro. The playful mixing of architectural styles and location on a cobblestoned side street make it an ideal picture-taking place and a great spot for spontaneous for “I can’t believe I’m in Mexico” moments.

Patzcuaro

Tempting Tamales

From the moment we turned up in Patzcuaro, we were told in no uncertain terms that we absolutely had to try the tamales being sold just outside the town’s bustling market. Not being the type to argue about when directed to eat street food, we tracked down these tamales and they were more than worth it. Being sold at an understated stall facing Plaza Chica – the town’s second largest plaza – these bad boys were topped with fresh sour cream, salsa verde, and packed a flavorful punch before just melting in your mouth.

 

This post originally appeared on TravelPulse

Travelly Picture: Rhine River in Autumn

The Rhine is a big river that runs through Germany and some other European countries, and we visited it recently and rode a ferry on it. The famous KD Ferry stops at lots of little towns along the river and since it was a nice autumn day I took this picture of a different boat on the Rhine river from the one we were on but I think it kind of sums up what riding a ferry on the Rhine River in autumn is all about.

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