A trip to the future while tripping back to the past
Amsterdam has a reputation which unfortunately proceeds it. The media projects Amsterdam as a drug and red light infested haven when in reality that is just a real small touristy part of the city. In and around the Red Light area can be found various coffee shops which offer a hash brownie or other marijuana treats. As noted this is just a small part of Amsterdam, to really enjoy Amsterdam a cruise through its UNESCO world heritage 17th century canals is a must. All while absorbing the rich Dutch renaissance architecture.
Amsterdam is a very free thinking society, it reminds me of the west coast of North America. This is also evident in the many art galleries as the Van Gogh museum, Lifestyle museum and of course their world famous Sexmuseum. Even a trip to the farmers market or through the shopping district one will see many unique and innovative products common to Holland alone.
The cycling paths are amazing and they even have their own sets of traffic lights. After touring through Amsterdam's medieval streets which run alongside the canals you can also chose to cycle out to Zandvoort beach which is one of the largest beach towns in the Netherlands passing through many's a small farmers town along the way with their old windmills and colorful flower markets. Cycling is a great and healthy way to get around and don’t worry about getting lost as English is widely spoken.
Getting There: The Amsterdam international airport named Schiphol is the fourth busiest airport in Europe and thus its serviced by most major international carriers. Schiphol is the home base for KLM, TUI and Transavia. Amsterdam is also serviced by trains from Paris, Berlin and the ferry ports at the The Hook of Holland.
For those that have never had the chance to visit San Francisco you are really missing out. This city and its surrounding area is a real American west coast gem. Its often been said that San Francisco has the most beautiful climate in the world. Not too hot and not too cold, just right for jogging along the Embarcadero with its palm lined streets, antique cable cars and docks leading to Alcatraz. Though it is often quite foggy, I’ve found the temperature in mid summer very refreshing when compared with other destinations further inland.
This is a very beautiful city built on top of and over many steep rolling hills and features an eclectic mix of colorful architecture ranging from large Victorian manors to more modern style architecture. There is also over 200 well kept parks with flower displays and bronzed statues. The downtown core is clean and features great shopping, pubs, trendy bistros and high rise bank towers that rise in and around California street with its turn of the century street cars
Several miles from the downtown core there is very good surfing along the Pacific beachfront and miles of rolling sand dunes. Its a very free thinking and spiritual society and historically has been since its settlement by the Spanish in the 18th century with many missions built in and around the vicinity. SF is culturally alive with many world class museums and exhibits. This isn't your typical North American big box store town, built on a grid pattern. There is a real c'est la vie mind set here. People seem contempt and happy to be here. They've arrived and this is their final destination, for SF is more than just a city or a place but its a mindset. Life is short. Live it up. SF can also boast in having the second highest quality of living anywhere in the US. and that I quite believe is true.
Getting There: San Francisco International airport is well serviced with direct flights from all over the US and abroad.
The beautiful and historic Spanish Rivera coast line
The Spanish Costa Brava region
Alicante Spain is a warm and sunny beach resort town on the Spanish Mediterranean Sea and Costa Brava area. It features an intimidating Moorish castle Santa Barbara sitting high above the beach front and overlooking the beautiful marbled tiled palm lined promenade Explanada de España. The streets are narrow and cobbled stoned with many great tapas cafes featuring a wide variety of Spanish wines and more types of tapas then I could count. The marina has many big yachts, sailing cruisers and is framed by Roman pillars.
Alicante has a real Mediterranean feel to it, the weather is ideal for laying on the beach and relaxing while sipping a Sangaria. Alicante also features a dozen good museums and many summertime festivals as Fogueres de Sant Joan.
I find Alicante to be a very good rest stop as well as cultural retreat. Many restaurants open at typically Spanish times 9 pm. Its common to see whole families partaking in a family dinner. It should be noted the locals observe a midday siesta and so should you.
Getting There: Alicante is easily serviced within Spain via flights on Vueling and Iberia from Barcelona and Madrid. Its as well serviced via many Western European airports through carriers such as Ryanair, Easyjet, Transavia, Norwegian, KLM and Jet2.
A tropical French paradise called St Bart's
A visit to St. Bart's, is a visit to one of the worlds most beautiful islands in the stunning tropical French Caribbean. Complete with its luxury yachts, wine bistros, boutique hotels and stunning white sandy beaches.
St Bart's; Whether one calls it by its English name “St Barts” or by its French name “Saint Barthélemy”, this is a truly beautiful tropical island retreat with some of the most beautiful Caribbean beaches and turquoise waters anywhere.
Though few can pinpoint it on a map, its name is often name dropped via celebrities and the jet set types. Celebrities are often seen gracing its sugar like beaches in the celeb magazines showing off their perfectly tanned bodies. St Barth's is a French island approximately 8.5 square miles with 8500 citizens and is located 150 miles west of Puerto Rico. Though part of the overseas collectivity of France today, it was originally a Swedish colony for a century up until 1885. The Swedes are long gone but St Barth's still maintains a real European flavor, more so than anywhere else in the Caribbean.
Getting There: Small commuter planes out of St Martin and Sint Maarten service the islands quaint little landing strip. A ferry service from the Dutch side of Sint Maarten also makes daily trips. Though the sea can be quite rough.
The world's finest white sand beaches
Turks and Caicos or TCI as it is adorably sometimes called is a British overseas territory consisting of 2 island groups with a population of 45000 and lies 650 miles southeast of Miami.
As one of the last British overseas territories in the world, TCI sustains a very high standard of living through tourism and offshore banking. The beaches are comprised of some of the most exquisite white sugary sand to be found anywhere in the Caribbean. The popular beach at Grace Bay is lined with many high end boutique hotels and Miami like outdoor cafes.
Some of the best reef snorkeling in the world can be found within 100 feet off the shoreline and among its majestic calm turquoise waters. The downtown core on “Provo” which is the main tourist island features the usual high end duty free Caribbean shopping and some very reasonably priced themed restaurants.
Overall a trip to TCI is quite relaxing but a little pricey. Its main advantages are having all the amenities of modern civilization without the hustle and bustle of people, traffic or noise. Plus its only a one and a half hour flight from Miami, a fact that makes it popular with the Miami celebrity crowd. It should also be noted they drive on the British side.
Getting There: During the winter season the island of Providenciales is serviced by charter flights from Canada via Air Canada and West Jet. American airlines include Delta, Jet Blue, United, US and American, while British Airways services TCI from Europe.
beautiful and secluded
St Eustatius or as its affectionately known "Statia", is a small Dutch Caribbean island in the northern Leeward islands. Originally sited by Columbus, it would spend the next century and a half being fought over by the various colonial European nations.
St Eustatius today, is a sleepy little island of just 8 square miles and 3700 people. Politically its a special municipality of the Netherlands. Dutch is the official language of the island government though English is widely used by the population. Papiamento and Spanish are other languages often heard on the island.
Many visitors to St Eustatius state the small island is "like the Caribbean 50 years ago”; as there are no golf courses, mega resorts, duty free shopping zones or large cruise ship ports. It’s a true eco retreat location and prides itself on environmentally protecting its world class dive sites, well marked hiking trails and meticulously managed national parks.
One of these National parks is "The Quill" volcano. The Quill is a dormant volcano towering high over the island and features a lush tropical rain forest within its crater with 150' high trees and many plants as unique plants that include elephant ears, figs, plantains, bananas, mahogany, seedless breadfruit, Surinam cherry's, ginger bush, edible raspberries and some 17 types of orchid
The capital Oranjestad, is a quaint little village featuring cobble stoned streets, colorful colonial homes and a stone fort overlooking the palm lined harbor.
There are few restaurants or hotels on the island, though the few restaurants that do exist are very good - especially the Chinese restaurants.
All and all a trip to St Eustatius (Statia) is a trip back in time to a simpler place and time where people don't lock their doors and everyone comes together as a proud community.
Getting there: daily Commuter flights from St Maarten are the easiest way of getting to St Eustatius.
Historical, magical and majestic
The western media for the past few decades had often promoted a villainous image of Northern Ireland as some sort of Beirut war zone. Fortunately through popular shows as The Game of Thrones, Northern Ireland is slowly being discovered as anything but.
Tourism is a growing industry with world class attractions as the Antrim Coast drive, The Giant's Causeway (world heritage site), Dunluce Castle, Titanic Museum, Ulster Folk Park and slews of well maintained National Trusts sites as Carrickfergus Castle, Penrhyn Castle, Mount Stewart and many Neolithic stone structures comparable to Stone Henge in England.
Alas Northern Ireland has possibly the most genuine, sincere and friendly folk’s one will ever meet any where.
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A day in the life of Lisbon Portugal
Lisbon Portugal is continental Europe's westernmost city, situated on the western fringe of the Iberian Peninsula hugging the Atlantic Ocean and River Tagus.
Its is both the capital and largest city within Portugal with a metro population of 3 million. Its a vibrant city combining the best of Old World European charm with the sophistication of today's metropolis. Lisbon is recognized as a alpha-level global city by the Globalization and World Cities Study Group because of its importance in finance, commerce, media, entertainment, arts, international trade, education and tourism.
It is in fact one of the oldest cities in the world, and thus predates London, Paris and Rome by centuries. Its been a permanent settlement since Phoenician times 1200 BC. The city today is a living museum with it's many mosaic tiled streets, cafes, water fountains and grand Moorish castle over looking the harbor.
At the entrance to Lisbon is the imposing Rua Augusta Arch. The Arch is a reminder of the days when Portugal was a global super power with its many explorers as Vasco De Gama conquering trade routes on nearly every continent. Walking through the Arch one will immediately notice the intricate mosaic tiled street which stretches for blocks, dozens of street cafes and old street cars reminiscent of a different time
The old section of Lisbon known as Alfama is like stepping back in time with its winding narrow streets, clothes lines strung over head, Ginja liquor shops and many quaint street cafes that feature live Fado music performances. Alfama provides a commanding birds eye view of Lisbon, and from here there are many's a golden sunset
Nearby Lisbon one can find some of the nicest beach towns anywhere. Towns as Cascais, also known as the Portuguese Rivera and Costa di Caparica are easily accessible by local transit and provide a relaxing getaway from the the hustle of Metro Lisbon. Both destinations offer sandy beaches and wind sport activities.
The Costa di Caparica also serves as one of Portugal's surfing capitals
Of course no trip would be complete without decent shopping. Lisbon offers a wide variety of shopping for the shopaholic. The Colombo Mall will not disappoint with its fine restaurants and name brand fashion boutiques.
While the weather in Lisbon can be extremely hot in the summer months, its normally quite dry much of the year and although hilly its very easy to walk to many of the attractions. The city is both safe and clean and is serviced by decent and cost effective public transport options. The taxi's are also very inexpensive and plentiful. The locals pride themselves in their English fluency, and especially in the tourist areas. Restaurant meals are very good and rather reasonable by European standards even with the exchange rates factored in. Overall the standard of living for the locals seems quite high, and one may notice the number of people always about the town exercising.
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UNESCO world heritage site old Cartagena
Cartagena Colombia also known as Cartagena de Indias; is located on Colombia's hot and muggy tropical Caribbean shores. It was established in 1533 as Spain's main South American trading port for silver and slaves and named for its namesake Cartagena Spain. Today its a bustling port with a population 971,592 ranking as the 5th largest city in Colombia. The remnants of Spain's colonial past is still alive today in the city's architecture, city walls, bull fighting and fortresses thus resulting in Cartagena as being named a Unesco World Heritage site in 1984.
There are many Spanish era churches within the wall of Cartagena, as the The 1533 dated Convento de Santo Domingo which after lengthy restorations is open for Sunday services once again.
From the Covenant of Santa Cruz de la Popa is a birds eye view of Cartagena.
The Tower clock provides the entrance into the old walled city of Cartagena. Passing through the entrance one is in awe of the hustle and bustle of the street merchants, food concessions, picturesque plazas with palm lined streets and buskers playing Champeta.
The defensive walls of Cartagena stretch 11 km. This made Cartagena a militarily impregnable city in its day. The walls were designed and built to protect the city from pirate attacks and other European colonial powers.
Modern hotels and shopping complexes rise over the Caribbean beaches of The Boca Grande, as tourism is the mainstay of the economy. The Bocagrande (Big Mouth) is an area known as the Miami of South America for its many skyscrapers and vibrant night life. The area contains most of the city's tourist facilities, such as hotels, shops, restaurants, nightclubs and art galleries. It is located between Cartagena Bay to the east and the Caribbean Sea to the west. The beaches of Bocagrande, lying along the northern shore, are made of volcanic sand, which is slightly grayish in color. This makes the water appear muddy, though it is not. There are breakwaters about every 200 yard
A day at the beach in Cartagena can provide for a lively circus like atmosphere attracting beach goers from across South America and Europe; especially during festivals as The Cartagena Festival Internacional de Música held the first two weeks each January. The beaches of The Boca Grande at this time are swarmed by thousands of young South American music fans partaking in rave like beach concerts by a selection of top international DJ's.
A trip to Old Cartagena is like stepping back in time. The Old city is vibrant, colorful and alive with many unique artisan shops. Water fountains, open air plazas and horse drawn carriages all add to its old world ambiance. The weather can be hot and muggy with regular 90% humidity - so dress appropriately and avoid the mid-day sun. Taxi's are bountiful and dirt cheap. The city has come along way in regards to improved security and tourist services. English is limited, as most tourists tend to be from else where in South America. Day trips to the white sands and turquoise waters of the Rosario Islands are also available.
Getting There: Direct flights in the winter months connect major North American cities with the Rafael Núñez International Airport. Connecting flights within Colombia via Bogota and Medellin are also possible.
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Around St. John's Newfoundland
St John's Newfoundland, is the capital of Canada's eastern most province - Newfoundland and Labrador. It is the largest city in Newfoundland and also North America's mot eastern city. The town was named after John the Baptist. John Cabot sailed into its harbor in 1497. Its is the oldest city in North America.
The city's history includes roles in the Seven Year's war, The French and Indian war, American Revolution and The War of 1812. It was at Signal Hill where Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic wireless signal.
Signal Hill over looks the Atlantic and St John's harbor. The British built strategic fortifications in the 17th century. Cabot Tower was built in 1897 to commemorate the city's 400th anniversary and Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee.
Soon after the European discovery of North America, St Johns became a major fishing port. Though the fishing industry has subsided St Johns is still a major port for the oil and natural gas sectors. Its ranked as a major World Energy city, serving as a base for ExxonMobil, Chevron, Husky and many other energy companies. There are four major offshore oil developments here.
Colorful homes dot the hillside upon entering St John's harbor
Quidi Vidi is a historical fishing village and a neighborhood of modern day St John's. Its features artisan shops, restaurants and a brew pub. The Lobster rolls are delicious.
St Johns's is famous for its lively Celtic music, pubs and food. Its often said that St John's has more pubs percapita than anywhere else in North America. Common dishes are comprised from ingredients that may include lobster, cod, scallops, salmon, turkey and curry.
St John's George street features 2 blocks of Irish pubs making for a very fun pub crawl.. Every night is Saturday night.
The classic St john's Fish and Chips dinner which features battered deep fried cod, fresh cut fries, stuffing, coleslaw and turkey gravy.
The people of St John's and Newfoundlander's alike have a tremendous sense of humor about themselves. In fact many jokes in Canada often feature the team "Newfy'" somewhere in the punchline. Street buskers abound in St John's. Celtic and Maritime music are everywhere.
St Johns's Jellybean Row houses. Appropriately named for the many colorful row homes throughout the city. Legend has it the houses were painted in such colorful themes so as fishermen could find there way home in the fog, though most of the fishermen are gone - pub crawlers utilize this strategy today.
The National War Museum at King's Beach on Water Street where in 1583 Sir Humphrey Gilbert claimed Newfoundland for England. The term "National" refers to this monument being built by the Dominion of Newfoundland when it was still an independent nation and prior to its joining Canada in 1948.
Water street is the oldest street in North America. Today there are many cafes, artisan shops and pubs featuring fresh seafood dishes with Live Irish music.
St John's Newfoundland makes for a great getaway. Its clean and safe plus the locals are very hospitable. The seafood is both fresh and delicious and there are a number of worth while attractions locally which may include whale watching or touring the small fishing villages along the Avalon Peninsula. Be prepared for the changing weather and the many diverse English accents with some not comprehensible even to native English speakers. As it is said there are more English language dialects in Newfoundland than any where else in the world.
Getting There: St John's is serviced from central Canada via direct flights from Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa. There are also direct flights from London and Dublin; and in season from major airports in the North East US.
As an avid traveler I've spent many years traveling which I consider both a spiritual and enlightening experience