JNTO Sweepstakes Free trip to Japan

Adachi Museum

Want to go to Japan? Enter the Japan National Tourism Organization’s offering of a free trip for two people to one of three destinations in Japan–your choice. Called Japan: Discover the Land of the Gods Sweepstakes, it centers on three destinations: Dogo Island of Shimane Prefecture’s Oki Island chain; Izumo, also in Shimane Prefecture; and Hiroshima. I know all about them, because I wrote all the descriptions for each of the destinations for the sweepstakes. You have until March 10 to apply.

Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima is a World Heritage Site

I just spent a few days in Hiroshima Prefecture, and I have to say that Miyajima is one of my favorite places in Japan. Because its Itsukushima Shrine is a World Heritage Site, the small island is hardly undiscovered, and yet there are hiking paths that allowed me to be completely on my own yesterday, making it pretty much one of those perfect days. And the oysters! They’re among the largest and juiciest I’ve ever had.

But Izumo is also one of my favorite places, not the least because it’s home to the Adachi Museum, which stunningly blends art and a traditional Japanese garden into one of the most mind-blowing museums anywhere. And the Oki Islands? It’s off the beaten path, with shrines and natural wonders that will certainly place it someday on the international radar.

So act now. Enter at Japan: Discover the Land of the Gods Sweepstakes

 

 

 

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Branson on New York Times Top 2018 Destinations

Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail

Whenever people ask what places I write about, I always enjoy answering Japan, Hong Kong, Macau–and Branson! I know Branson is a hard sell, but there’s a reason the New York Times list of top 52 places to go in 2018 put this Ozarks destination as number 21. And I’ll bet that if I could personally take the most dedicated naysayer to some of my favorite places, we would have a great time.

Among the many things to see, top on my list is the Ralph

Ralph Foster Museum

Foster Museum, with one of the most eclectic and amazing collections you’ll see anywhere, from Indian artifacts, historic and rare firearms, quilts, Meerschaum pipes, furniture, farm implements, tributes to music personalities–and even the truck used in the Beverly Hillbillies is here.

One of the newest destinations is Top of the Rock, which boasts the Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum and–I love this–the Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail, which lets you drive your own golf cart through some of the Ozarks’ most beautiful countryside. This is a hoot–I

Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum

can’t imagine anyone not having fun here.

To see for yourself whether Branson has something for you, see my itinerary for Branson Off the Beaten Track or any of my four other suggested itineraries.

Branson Off the Beaten Path

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Florida Keys Still Recovering

I was recently in the Florida Keys and am happy to report that four months after Hurricane Irma wreaked her damage on September 10, Key West is back to normal — that is to say, what passes for normal in this very unique and independently-minded slice of paradise. There was a cruise ship at port almost every day disgorging tourists to the bars and shops on Duval Street, establishments were up and humming and there were the usual visitors from around the world.

Drive through the dozens of Keys to get to Key West, however, and it’s another story altogether. Although Key Largo at the northern tip of the Keys and Key West at its southern end escaped most of Irma’s wrath, some of the middle Keys got hammered, with much of the damage still visible spread from Islamorada at about Mile Marker 80 through Cudjoe Key at about Mile Marker 20 (for those of you not familiar with the Keys, most establishments  along Highway 1 are most easily identified by its mile marker, which begins in Key West at Mile 0 and runs northeast through Key Largo to Mile Marker 110).

I was in Tallahassee during Irma, and because the capital at one time was thought to be straight in the hurricane’s path, I was pretty much glued to the TV. While we were spared, videos coming out of the Keys were horrific, with boats strewn onto roads or overturned in canals, trailer courts that looked like jumbles of Legos and downed trees and power lines.

Initial recovery was swift (especially in light of recovery efforts in the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico), with Highway 1 reopening only five days after the hurricane and the first cruise ship landing in Key West September 24. But while it’s a party as usual in Key West, some of the Keys are still on a painful path toward recovery. When I stopped by the Marathon Visitors Center to ask how things were going, the woman there handed me sheets of paper with lists of hotels, restaurants and businesses that had reopened, with only about 63 percent of lodging now operating. All 10 of the Keys’ state parks are now open for day use, but overnight camping has resumed in only a few of them. Beaches have also been impacted, with some still closed and others only partially open. All major attractions have reopened as have most restaurants, though some eateries remain shuttered.

But the enormity of Irma’s power was most evident to me by what was still left in its wake and what had simply disappeared. I saw huge piles of debris along the highway, full of boards, brush, trailer hulks, mattresses, sofas, coolers, refrigerators, furniture, twisted metal and all the unusable items that had once been part of people’s lives. There were upturned trees, as well as shrubs and trees stripped of all leaves. There was still the occasional stranded boat, and I saw former trailer courts and home lots that are now eerily vacant and those that are still being cleared of destruction. But the most distressing thing I saw were the bay side mangrove forests and hardwood hammocks, strewn with debris sometimes so thick that they only way to remove it would be by human hand. There are doubtless higher priorities right now, but no one knows what the damage might be to the environment and to wildlife. Even thoughtless litter can kill an animal.

A key deer amid debris on No Name Key

That was brought home to me at Key Deer Refuge Visitor Center on Big Pine Key, one of the hardest-hit keys. The Center had lots of information about the refuge’s most famous inhabitants, the key deer, found only here and weighing only 60 to 80 pounds and standing about 2.5 feet tall. At one time the population had dwindled down to only 11 deer, but since 1984 the protected species has rebounded to about 800 animals. Still, there are casualties, mostly due to cars. Photographs at the center also showed how deer and other wildlife can become ensnared or poisoned by litter. And that was before Irma.

The guy behind the desk at the Key Deer Refuge Center didn’t mince words when it came to Irma and the doubts it cast on the future. He wasn’t sure how some people who had lost property would ever rebuild, or even whether they could or ought to. He alternated between hopeful optimism and despair, saying that the Keys were a “slowly deteriorating thing” and that the “Keys aren’t about the land so much as about the water.” Although he assured us that everything “will come back, will come back,” he also said “everything is beaten down” and we “don’t know what’s going to happen.” It’s not difficult to feel sympathy for him. He, too, had suffered property damage from Irma.

So while cleanup and reconstruction are ongoing, it may take a while for the Keys to move past Irma entirely. And surely there are lessons in there somewhere. Hurricanes may grow fiercer and more frequent. Some environments might just be too fragile and vulnerable for human population. Of course, it’s easier for someone who doesn’t live in areas threatened by flooding, wildfires or soil erosion to say what should be done, harder for someone who does. All I know is that the Florida Keys represent some of the most awe-inspiring landscapes in our country. Go now.

No Name Pub, with the Key Deer wildlife refuge, reopened in late October

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Why Mackinac Island Should be on Your Bucket List

The Grand Hotel. Photo by Beth ReiberBefore I went to Mackinac Island, I pictured it as largely flat, dominated by a grand old hotel and with horse carriages catering mostly to tourists. Boy, was I wrong. Mackinac Island is anything but flat, with a fort built in 1780 along a bluff and more than 70 miles of hiking trails of various difficulty providing ample evidence. Horses do transport people, but they also haul garbage, deliver food and furniture and do all the labor they used to do back in the days before automobiles. It’s hard to appreciate a world without cars until you actually experience it. The fact that Mackinac Island is located in this car-worshiping nation of ours, in Lake Huron between Michigan’s lower and upper peninsulas, makes it all the more remarkable.

What surprised me the most about Mackinac is that it is mostly undeveloped wilderness. More than 80% of the 3.8-square island is protected as a state park, with its hilly interior home to stately trees and migratory birds. And while there are other accommodations besides the Grand Hotel, why, really, stay anywhere else? It’s the biggest draw on the island (outside tourists who want to gawk at its turn-of-the-the-century interior have to pay $10 for the privilege) and it truly does complete the experience of Mackinac. Built in 1887 as a destination hotel by a railroad company wishing to draw travelers onto its trains, it retains its Gilded Age charm, from its lawn games and afternoon tea to its five-course dinner with a mandatory dress code, allowing guests to feel like they, too, are part of history in the making.

For more on why I think Mackinac Island should be on everyone’s bucket list, see my article published in Getting On Travel:

Time Traveling with Horses on Mackinac Island

 

 

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Baracoa my Favorite Cuban Town

Baracoa was established in 1511 as Spain’s first settlement in Cuba, but then it languished in obscurity for the next several centuries, isolated and reachable only on foot or by boat. Located on Cuba’s far eastern coast, it became accessible only in the 1960s, when a winding road that threads over mountains and through woods finally made its way here. Tourists, of course, soon followed, prompting many families to open rooms in their homes as casa particulars (the Cuban version of a B&B) to accommodate them. With its brightly-colored buildings, laid-back street life and lack of fancy hotels and pretension or even any tourist sights, it’s the kind of seaside village that would be overrun by backpackers if it were located, say, in Thailand. Still, it gets its fair share of young travelers in peak season, which normally begins in November.

I went to Baracoa as an antidote to the big cities of Havana and Santiagoimg_1458 and to picture-perfect, tourist-mobbed Trinidad. Of those four cities, Baracoa was my favorite. I loved spending time in the town’s shady plazas, where townspeople gathered and visited and from which I could observe the steady parade of pedestrians, children in school uniform, motorcycles, bici-taxis (pedicabs) and horse-drawn carriages. There were very few cars and even fewer taxis. One of the things I love most about travel is seeing how other people live and–if, by some miracle–partaking in it. Baracoa, like most villages, offers a fast-track opportunity to observe and participate in daily life.

img_1528Most Baracoan homes are one or two stories, lining both sides of dusty streets and with doors and windows flung open wide to catch any breeze (most Cubans do not have air conditioning, though they do usually supply their rental rooms with window unites). Most homes have backyard courtyards and rooftops for hanging laundry, growing produce or hanging out. From the roof of my casa particular, I could look out over the neighborhood and watch barefoot teenagers playing soccer in the street, dogs slinking down alleys, boys tending pet pigeons kept in rooftop cages, horses pulling carts full of fruit to sell, and buff young men working out in a courtyard makeshift gym.

On Sunday, my travel companion and I hired a taxi, which turned out to be an orange-colored 1952 Chevrolet that was a far cry from the polished classics cruising for tourists in Havana, to take us to Maguana Beach about 10 miles west of town. But first, of course, we dropped off his sister at Duaba Rio, on the riverbank where her friends were gathering for a party; they insisted we later join them. After continuing on the bumpiest and most bone-rattling one-hour ride of my life to Maguana Beach, we swam a little, read a little and ate lunch at a table brought down to the beach just for us. But what I most wanted was to join that party. Our taxi driver, whom we’d hired for the day, found a roadside restaurant where we bought beer and rum (we didn’t want to show up empty-handed) and drove us back to the river, where we were met by about 20 people in full swing of having fun, including children of all ages, young couples and an older woman who was a mother, aunt or grandmother to most of them. There was a big pot of stew, beer aplenty and pulsating music blaring from a boombox. Soon everyone was dancing, including us, though we looked ridiculously inept compared to the Cubans, who can make dance look like a close approximation to vertical sex.

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A man and his horse outside Baracoa

After the taxi driver drove us back to our casa particular, we asked him to wait while we retrieved from our room a coloring book for his niece, eye shadow for his sister and Ibuprofen for his aunt, whose feet were terribly swollen from diabetes. People in Cuba make out with only the basics, and when they don’t have the basics they improvise (the owner of our casa particular cut aluminum strips from a beer can to repair the stripped threads of our shower’s faucet). Life is hard, and it seems like everyone we met wants more. But though Cubans are very poor, they’re all in it together. That river party reminded me that you don’t have to have money to enjoy life with people you love or to show generosity with strangers. When it comes right down to it, it’s the vision of life most of us strive for.

For more details about my trip to Baracoa, see my article published at gonomad.com:

Baracoa—The Other Side of Cuba

 

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State Welcome Centers Destinations in Themselves

Long before there was such a thing as Internet, I made it a practice to always stop by the local tourist office every time I arrived at a new destination. Whether Innsbruck, Kyoto or Omaha, I always dropped by to pick up a map and brochures and to pick the brains of the people who worked or volunteered there. Now, of course, you can find almost anything on your phone, but I still like looking at a map to see the big picture. Furthermore, as a recent drive from Kansas to Florida proved, state welcome centers have gone beyond simply handing out maps. In fact, many have become destinations in themselves. Continue reading

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Hong Kong in Two Days

Hong Kong in two days? It’s possible, especially because the city is so compact and public transportation is so efficient. Top of everyone’s list, of course, is quite literally that–The Peak–which at 1,811 feet is Hong Kong’s tallest mountain. Don’t bother taking the Peak Tram, however, if it’s at all foggy or smoggy, because you won’t be able to see a damn thing (mornings are generally a safer bet, but my general rule of thumb is that if you can see The Peak from Tsim Sha Tsui’s waterfront, you’ll have views from The Peak).

But there are plenty of other things to do in Hong Kong, including taking the iconic Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour, learning about the history of the former colony at the Hong Kong Museum of History, shopping for bargains at Stanley Market and the Temple Street Night Market, eating dim sum and embibing in a cocktail or two in a lounge with sweeping views of the harbor or slugging it out in the nightlife district of Lan Kwai Fong.

For more details of what to see in Hong Kong in two days and how to do it, see my two-day itinerary in BinduTrips.com:

Hong Kong in Two Days

View from Ritz-Carlton

 

 

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Japan’s Top World Heritage Sites

Kiyomizu Temple, Kyoto

I haven’t been to all of Japan’s 21 UNESCO World Heritage sites, but they’re on my list. Kyoto, of course, is king, with an astounding 17 locations that make up the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto World Heritage Site. But Japan’s World Heritage sites are varied and vast, with a list that includes villages, islands, ancient shrines and temples, mountains, a castle, a silver mine and even a bombed-out shell of a building that serves as a somber reminder of Hiroshima’s 1945 atomic blast. What follows are my reviews of Japan’s top World Heritage sites, based on my 30-some years traveling around Japan as author of various Frommer’s guides, including Frommer’s Japan. Whereas some sites are worth seeing if you’re in the vicinity (such as Tokyo’s Museum of Western Art, designed by Le Corbusier and added to the list in 2016), most are worth going out of your way for. And some are so spectacular they’re worth the trip to Japan just to see them. Continue reading

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Christmas in Branson

Christmas is huge in Branson. Every year the entire town becomes a winter wonderland, complete with special holiday shows in all its theaters, an annual parade celebrating the birth of Christ and lighting displays that range from drive-throughs in your own car to dazzling decorations at attractions like Silver Dollar City. Add shopping at outlet malls, craft stores and antique shops, and it’s easy to see why the end of the year is one of Branson’s most popular seasons. Frankly, I find Branson a trip any time of the year, but Christmas in Branson brings it up a notch, kind of like when Dorothy opens to doors to Oz and everything bursts into color. Continue reading

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Hakone Best Overnight Excursion from Tokyo

Mt. Fuji

Hakone is my favorite overnight trip outside Tokyo, but it’s also a great destination if you’re looking for something to do between Tokyo and Kyoto. Located in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, it’s a well-trodden path for the fearful, yet just adventuresome enough for the intrepid. Traveling Hakone by mountain tram, cable car, ropeway and boat, the journey has everything you might wish for: beautiful mountain scenery, historic sites, great museums, kitsch, and hot-spring resorts. In fact, the entire circular trip is so much fun, I’ve probably traveled this route more a dozen times over the past 30-some years. Sometimes if I’m lucky, I even catch glimpses of Mt. Fuji. Continue reading

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Places to Visit Between Tokyo and Kyoto

PLACES TO VISIT BETWEEN TOKYO AND KYOTO

You can zip between Tokyo and Kyoto on the Shinkansen bullet train in about 2 ½ hours. But if you have more time on your hands, there are several places to visit between Tokyo and Kyoto that make for easy day or overnight trips along the way. Depending on your interest, you can see castles, shrines, gardens, hot-spring baths, panoramic views of Mt. Fuji, and museums showcasing everything from samurai armor and decorative arts to century-old architecture.

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Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park: Gateway to a national park at the foot of Mt. Fuji, Odawara is where you disembark the bullet train for a delightful circuitous route via mountain railway, cable car, ropeway and sightseeing bus through verdant mountainous countryside. Along the way you can visit a reconstructed castle, soak in hot springs (Hakone Kowakien Yunessun offers outdoor and indoor baths), ramble the landscaped grounds of the Hakone Open-Air Museum with its 400-some sculptures, and learn how restrictive travel was during the days of the shogun at Hakone Check Point by visiting a reconstructed guardhouse. Although you could conceivably complete the journey in a long day, you’ll get more from the experience if you stay overnight in one of Hakone’s many Japanese inns or in the majestic Fujiya Hotel, established in 1878. In clear weather, you might even be able to see Mt. Fuji.

Atami: This seaside town makes for a relaxing day trip, especially if your goal is the beach and boardwalk just a 15-minute walk from the station. There are, however, a few sightseeing options, including the hilltop MOA Art Museum with panoramic views, woodblock prints, Chinese ceramics, lacquerware and other Asian art, and Kiunkaku, a 1919 villa with a mix of Japanese and Western architecture. If you time your visit on a Saturday or Sunday, you can also see geisha performing traditional dance at Atami Geiga Kenban theater and even have your photo taken with one of the performers.

Nagoya: Japan’s fourth-largest city was largely destroyed during World War II, but its castle figures so prominently in history, it was resurrected almost exactly as it was and houses feudal-era swords, flintlocks, paintings on sliding doors and screens and other treasures. Other major draws include the Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium and the Tokugawa Art Museum with its samurai gear, decorative arts and other objects that once belonged to the first Tokugawa shogun, plus its Tokugawaen Japanese garden. The Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology depicts the historic progression of the company’s automobile and textile production. If time allows, visit the Museum Meiji Mura with its 60-some buildings and structures from the Meiji Period (1868-1912), including Western- and Japanese-style homes, government buildings, churches, a kabuki theater and the original façade and lobby of Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. In fact, Museum Meiji Mura is one of my favorite museums in Japan.

 

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Branson is Great for Families

Branson is great for families. When my boys were young, they loved going to Branson. What kid wouldn’t? Silver Dollar City, of course, is the big name in town, but they also couldn’t wait to drive their own go-carts back in the days before they had licenses, thrilled to the rush of water slides at White Water, enjoyed splashing into Table Rock Lake on a Ride the Ducks tour and even laughed themselves silly at the corny jokes that are often integral to Branson’s many shows. Branson for families is a no-brainer.

Having recently visited Branson–this time with my parents and 99-year-old aunt in tow–I also saw that it’s a also great vacation spot for multi-generational families.

I’ve written five itineraries on Branson for Bindutrips, including this one on Branson for families.

Branson for Families

Visit my other itineraries for more information on what to do and see.

 

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Mexico’s Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende

It seems like many Americans go to Mexico to party on its beaches, which is reason enough to head somewhere else. I’m drawn to Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende, two colonial towns in central Mexico that are quite possibly the most beautiful in the country. They owe their wealth in architecture and art to silver, mined in surrounding hills beginning in the 16th century by the Spanish. Churches, pastel-colored mansions, grand plazas, cobbled streets and even universities are proof of their affluent past, but it’s the vibe on the streets that captures my attention.

San Miguel de Allende

Both Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende, only an hour or so apart, have striking similarities. They are about the same size, with urban populations of about 80,000 and students making up as much as a fourth of the total. And both are beguilingly attractive, which, coupled with their history, earns them status as UNESCO World Heritage sites. They are walking towns, making it easy to become intimately acquainted. Continue reading

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In Kentucky, It’s all About Horses and Bourbon

I didn’t know much about Kentucky other than a vague school-days’ recollection that it was Daniel Boone country. But then my son graduated from college and took his first job at Eastern Kentucky University, south of Lexington. I’ve visited him several times and am struck by the state’s natural beauty. But what mostly caught my attention is that in Kentucky, it’s all about horses and bourbon. Continue reading

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Buenos Aires Loves its Dogs

I consider myself a rather lazy dog owner, because all I have to do when business calls is let Greta out my back door to my fenced-in yard. The park is a short block away. No elevators, no long walks through city streets to a spot of green. But that doesn’t stop the porteños of Buenos Aires. Oh, no. Buenos Aires loves its dogs. In fact, it may have more dogs per capita than any other city in Latin America.

Palermo, perhaps because of its many parks and the fact that the neighborhood is quickly becoming super trendy, has more than its fair share of dogs. It’s quite a sight to see professional dog walkers, with six or more canines under their charge walking in complete synchronicity. But what would you expect in the country of tango? There are dogs on balconies, there are dogs barking at night. Shops and restaurants place water bowls outside for their furry friends. I’ve seen hooks beside doors so owners can park their pooches while they shop inside. Even market vendors have gotten into the game, offering dog vests, leashes and all the accoutrements a dog might need.

But not my little Greta. She won’t be wearing a fur-lined jacket or a jewel-encrusted collar any time soon. And unlike those many dog owners in Buenos Aires, I actually clean up after my dog on our daily walk.

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Japanese Tea Ceremony Soothes the Soul

The Japanese tea ceremony might seem like a simple thing, but as with most things Japanese, it is anything but. In fact, developed to free the mind and soul of worry and thought, it’s a highly choreographed ritual that takes years to learn. Samurai used it to clear their minds during long war campaigns. Aristocracy used it as a form of relaxation. Housewives learn it to round out their education. Businessmen take it up as a way to escape the rigors of business. Simply put, the Japanese tea ceremony soothes the soul, but it also demands patience, discipline and dedication. One of my first experiences with the seemingly simple procedure occurred years ago, when a woman I met at a budget Japanese inn asked whether she could serve me tea as a way to practice what she’d learned. As she went through the many steps, apologizing for being such an amateur, I asked how long she’d been studying. Only seven years, she replied. As far as she was concerned, she had much to learn.

Nothing is left to chance in a Japanese tea ceremony. The way the charcoal is lit, the placement of the tea utensils, the selection of the tea bowl based on the seasons, even the vocabulary–all is strictly proscribed. With time, the movements and the ceremony become fluid, allowing thoughts to flow freely from one step to the next.

Read more about how the Japanese Tea Ceremony soothes the soul in my article, Bucket List: Japanese Tea Ceremony, published July 2017 in Global Traveler.

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Legs Inn a Must for its quirky architecture, Polish food and Lake Michigan Views

You don’t just happen to be driving by Legs Inn and decide spontaneously to pop in for Polish sausage. That’s not to say the restaurant doesn’t catch your eye. The unusual stone  structure is renowned for its rows of upended cast-iron stove legs that serve as a kind of rooftop railing (hence it’s name). But Legs Inn is so off Michigan’s beaten path, that unless you’re also visiting Mackinac Island, driving the nearby scenic  “Tunnel of Trees” or heading to Headlands International Dark Sky Park, you probably won’t be passing through the tiny community of Cross Village. Unless, of course, Legs Inn is your destination, which applies to almost everyone who comes here to dine. Continue reading

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Why I Live in Lawrence KS

I was asked to write about my hometown for the Explore Lawrence website. We moved here from Florida when I was 10 because my father accepted a job at the University of Kansas. He promised we’d stay only two years. You can see how that went. I was bitten by the travel bug when I was very young, probably when I learned my grandmother was born in Austria and I started learning German. I also spent countless hours pouring over issues of National Geographic, always thinking “I want to go there!” In any case, I saw early on that there was a big world out there. My first international trip was when I was 16, courtesy of the Girl Scouts, when I spent a month in Sweden and learned to my delight that scouting was co-ed. I then spent my middle university year abroad in Germany, followed by another year while in graduate school. After a year working as a newspaper reporter in a small Kansas town, I quit and moved back to Germany to begin my career as a travel writer. I’ve been travel writing ever since. As a freelancer, I can live pretty much anywhere, but I moved back to Lawrence many years ago. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t live in another country again someday, but Lawrence will always be my hometown. The link below is what I wrote for why I live in Lawrence KS.

 

I grew up in Lawrence, but typical of restless teenagers, I couldn’t wait to get away. After living most of my twenties and early thirties in Germany and Japan as a freelance travel writer, however, I decided that Lawrence was where I wanted to be. We have wetlands, easy access to lakes and hiking trails, diverse neighborhoods, unique museums, an ever-growing roster of ethnic restaurants and a wide range of festivals and entertainment, making Lawrence pretty much the perfect college town. I’ve been a volunteer at the Lawrence Visitor Center for more than 20 years, which I enjoy because I get to meet people from all over the world and answer questions. You never know what they’re going to ask, which keeps me on my toes. I always recommend the free movie we show at the visitor center about the founding of Lawrence and Quantrill’s raid. I also take my out-of-town guests to the Oread Hotel’s rooftop for the view (our dense canopy of trees makes it look like we’re a people of the woods). I love living only a five-minute walk from downtown, in a 127-year-old house where I can also satisfy my inner urban farmer with a garden and chickens. And when the travel writing life calls, Kansas City International Airport is only a 50-minute drive away. Why would I live anywhere else? Lawrence, after all, really is the center of Google Earth. – Beth #nttw17

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Pisac’s Market More than I Bargained for

One of my favorite things to do in any city or village is to visit the local market, whether it’s a wet market in Hong Kong or the Feria de Mataderos in Buenos Aires. In Peru, I was most taken with Pisac’s Market in the Sacred Valley. We got rooms in a hostal right on the main square (named, as always, Plaza des Armas), with windows providing colorful views. But although Sunday is Pisac’s most famous market day, attracting busloads of tourists, my two sons and I missed it. On the other hand, if we hadn’t gotten sick, we wouldn’t have stayed five nights. I’ve never observed the workings of a market this close for this many days.  I didn’t buy much, but Pisac’s Market offered more than I bargained for. Continue reading

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Machu Picchu Better than Imagined

DSCN0103-1Machu Picchu is probably on every traveler’s bucket list, and with good reason. Built by the Incas around 1450, abandoned about 100 years later, and brought to the world’s attention in 1911 by American explorer Hiram Bingham, Machu Picchu is quite simply an architectural masterpiece. Although there are many traces of the Incas remaining in Peru, none offer such breathtakingly irrefutable proof of their brilliancy. For that and many reasons, I found Machu Picchu remarkably better than imagined. Continue reading

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