Lawrence Magazine Features Me

It’s always nice to get recognition in your hometown, especially if most people you know never read anything you write (unless, of course, they happen to be traveling to Japan….).

This short article appeared in the winter edition of Lawrence Magazine, ironically, photonot long after my spectacular bicycle crash in which I broke my left arm and several fingers in my right hand, thereby rendering me incapable of hefting a suitcase, not to mention typing.

After surgeries in October and November (metal plate and eight screws in my arm; two screws in my right-hand little finger, which had only 15% of the remaining middle joint intact and required a bone graft from my hand) I am much better, since almost anything would be better than not being able to dress yourself, wash your own hair or cut your own food. Indeed, my left arm is now out of its sling and I can remove my finger brace to type, but there are several months of therapy in my future. Someday I’ll be on the road again.

Lawrence Magazine, Winter 2015

 

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Why Should Aussies have all the Fun?

Japan has long been a mecca for Australians wishing to ski in summer (which in Australia falls during the months of December through February), with Niseko (60 miles southwest of Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido) and Nagano (site of the 1998 Olympics) among the most popular destinations.

With the Japan government’s goal of increasing the number of foreign visitors, it has launched a major campaign around the world, including the United States. This ad I wrote, which appeared in the November issue of Conde Nast Traveler, extols the virtues of winters in Japan, from its ski slopes to its hot-spring spas.

Advertisement in Conde Nast Travler, November 2015

Advertisement in Conde Nast Travler, November 2015

 

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Stanley, Hong Kong

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Stanley waterfront

Almost every time I’ve been in Hong Kong–and I can’t even count how many that would be over the past 30-some years–I’ve spent at least part of a day in Stanley, on the sound end of Hong Kong Island. It’s

Entrance to Stanley Market

Entrance to Stanley Market

long been known for its market, meaning, of course, that it’s no longer the place to go for bargains. In fact, whereas years ago the market dealt only in clothing, over the past couple of decades souvenirs have crept into the mix–which can only mean one thing: tourists.

But although Stanley Market has changed, I still love going there. PartIMG_4661 of it has to do with the wild ride to get there, best done in a double-decker bus that careens around corners and races over hills, gradually revealing glimpses of the South China Sea. The village of Stanley, long a popular enclave for expats, is laid-back and trendy, with good restaurants and a beach popular with families.

For more on Stanley, see this article in Global Traveler:

http://www.globaltravelerusa.com/stanley-hong-kong/

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Escape Macau’s Sensory Overload in Coloane

Chapel of St. Francis Xavier in Coloane Village

Chapel of St. Francis Xavier in Coloane Village

I’ve long been writing about how much Macau has changed since I first stepped ashore here in the 1980s, but one place that has resisted change is the island of Coloane. Not that Coloane has escaped completely unscathed, especially since it was joined to the island of Taipa in order to create reclaimed land that’s now home to mega resorts, shopping malls and casinos.

But Coloane remains the green lungs of the fast-growing city, home to beaches, hiking trails, a park with resident pandas, and a low-key village famous for its al-fresco restaurants. This article I wrote for travel2next.com, called Coloane Macau–Old-World Charm, extols the island’s virtues and explains why I’ve long found it ideal for a weekend escape.

Macau Giant Panda Pavilion copy

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Riding the Amtrak Rails

The observation car on the Southwest Chief

The observation car on the Southwest Chief

I’ve ridden trains around the world–Europe on a rail pass too many times to count (especially while working on Frommer’s Europe by Train), Shinkansen bullet and commuter trains throughout Japan, in India through the desert to Jaisalmer, on old-fashioned steam-engine trains in Switzerland and Japan, and many other trips–but I recently took my very first long-distance train ride in my own country. I don’t know why it took me so long.

I boarded the Southwest Chief in my hometown of Lawrence KS for the nine-hour trip to Chicago for a family reunion. The

One of many small-town stations on the way

One of many small-town stations on the way

train was more than two hours late, which would cause apoplectic fits in Japan and Germany. But the good thing is that I could follow the actual status of my train on a mobile app, which meant I could enjoy another cup of coffee from the comfort of my home instead of waiting fitfully at the station before dawn.

Although there are assigned seats, I spent almost the entire day in the light-filled observation car, where large windows provided panoramic views of Midwestern fields and tidy small towns, many with diminutive¬† and quaint depots. One of the best things about traveling by train is the mobility it provides, especially if you’re traveling with a group. I played Yahtzee with my nieces at one of the tables in the observation car, shared a lunch with my mother at our seats, and visited with my cousin, who had boarded the same train in Flagstaff and had reserved her own sleeper compartment.

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My mother and nieces

A highlight was the dining car, where we had the choice of everything from steak and salmon to chicken and pasta. Diners are assigned tables with strangers, which makes for an enjoyable way to pass the time, especially for solo travelers.

What surprised me was how crowded the train was, filled with students traveling between their hometown and university, grandparents on their way to visit family, and a variety of people who find trains the most effective and economical way to travel in the U.S. And of course there are train fanatics, those who ride trains just for the love of it. One of those self-professed fanatics is Allan Labrozzi, whom I met on Southwest Chief traveling with his wife. Since taking his first train trip in 1975, followed a few years later traveling with an Amtrak rail pass, Labrozzi takes multiple trips every year, meticulously keeping track of each journey in notebook after notebook.

“No two trips are alike,” he told me. “Traveling by train allows you to relax and get away from the stress of life, and there’s always something to see. But the real plus are the people you meet. Everyone has a story. And the memories stay with you.”

Allan Labrozzi enjoying the observation car

Allan Labrozzi enjoying the observation car

There are numerous train trips Labrozzi recommends for the novice or for international travelers wishing to see North America, including runs between Schenectady and Montreal, Seattle and Los Angeles, the California Zephyr between San Francisco and Chicago and the four-night Toronto-Vancouver trip on Rail Canada.

Though we can’t compete with the extensive train networks of other countries, there are many more lines than I’d imagined, and now I’m interested in exploring more of them. Traveling by train is also inexpensive ($112 round trip between Lawrence and Chicago), with discounts given to seniors, children, students, military personnel, veterans and AAA members. For people with time, a USA Rail Pass is available for 15, 30 or 45 days.

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My cousin in her private sleeper

Although there are many freight trains that rumble through Kansas, my international friends are amused to hear that only two passenger trains stop daily in my hometown, one going east and the other going west.

One of the most long-lasting affects of taking the Southwest Chief is that I now hear the whistles of trains passing through, something I had grown too used to since childhood. If I happen to be awake early in the morning (5:47am if it happens to be on time), I listen for the Chief’s plaintive short and long whistles as it comes into town and approaches the station. Pausing just one minute to unload and board passengers, it’s whistle sounds again as it continues on its journey, first loud, then dimmer, dim and gone.

The dining car

The dining car

 

 

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Falling for Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls border Argentina and Brazil

Iguazu Falls border Argentina and Brazil

I’ve seen numerous waterfalls, but nothing prepared me for Iguazu Falls. In fact, I was totally blown away. Describing the experience doesn’t come close to conveying what it was like to actually be there.

View from the plane

View from the plane

Iguazu Falls isn’t just one waterfall but rather a series of many spanning about 1.6 miles, so huge and overpowering that gazing at them made me feel as insignificant as when I look upon the stars. The Iguazu River, which flows about 820 miles mostly through Brazil before hooking up with the Parana River, flows over numerous falls–about 275 of them, some as high as 240 feet. Iguazu gets its name, in fact, comes from the Guarani native language meaning “great waters.” That seems like an understatement.

IMG_0756The most magnificent viewpoint is via a relaxing open-car train ride and then a series of catwalks to Devil’s Throat, where you can peer over a massive U-shaped cascade that roars with fury and shoots up so much white mist that you can’t see the bottom of the abyss, though the mist is a great canvas for many colorful rainbows. Certainly nature at its most glorious and a reminder of how powerful nature can be.

No wonder Iguazu Falls is a World Heritage Site. For a more detailed explanation of my trip and impressions of Iguazu National Park, see my article, A Detour to the Jaw-Dropping Iguazu Falls, published in goNOMAD Travel.

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A series of catwalks hopscotch across islands on its way to Devil’s Throat

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The approach to Devil’s Throat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doing the tourist thing at Devil's Throat

Doing the tourist thing at Devil’s Throat

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Walking Tours through Macau’s Historic Districts

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A-Ma Temple has good feng shui

I feel sorry for day-trippers arriving in Macau by ferry from Hong Kong without a clue what to do. True, there was a time when Macau was smaller (literally so, before reclamation filled in the Outer Harbour and created Cotai with its many resorts and casinos) and just striking out toward the old town would bring you to its historic center with its slow pace of life and cafes. There was only one museum (The Maritime Museum), and the dozen or so casinos in town were hidden away in hotels.

IMG_3532Nowadays traffic congests streets, there’s continual construction of new hotels, casinos and shopping malls, and there are so many different destinations vying for your time that you have to be very focused to concentrate on the places or subjects that interest you. My interest lies in history, as well as neighborhoods, food and other aspects of travel that root me in the here and now, so my favorite haunts are the older neighborhoods in the historic center of Macau, concentrated mostly on Penha Peninsula and around the ruins of St. Paul.

This article I wrote for travel2next, Macau Map and Walking Tour of Penha

Lilau Square

Lilau Square

Peninsula, takes in Macau’s oldest temple, a Chinese mansion that I consider an absolute must-see, churches, historic squares and other favorite spots on a walk from A-Ma Temple to Senado Square. My second walking tour for travel2next, A Walk Around St. Paul’s Ruins, takes readers from Senado Square to the Ruins of St. Paul’s and Camoes Garden, with many stops in between.

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Portuguese folkdancing in front of St. Paul’s Ruins

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Rua Felicidad

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St. Augustine’s Square

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Osaka is No Tokyo, and Doesn’t Want to Be

Osaka Castle is the city's most iconic landmark

Osaka Castle is the city’s most iconic landmark

It’s no secret that there’s a long-standing rivalry between Osaka and Tokyo. In fact, after hearing people debate which city is better, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no conclusion. Rather, I like to think both cities and their inhabitants have their unique selling points. It’s like comparing New York to LA. What’s the point?

The Grand Front Osaka, next to Osaka Station, is a huge complex containing a hotel, offices, shops and restaurants, plus plenty of green spaces

The Grand Front Osaka, next to Osaka Station, is a huge complex containing a hotel, offices, shops and restaurants, plus plenty of green spaces

In recent years, Osaka has been spiffing up its image and its urban landscape, most notably around Osaka Station and the Tennoji/Abeno districts. This article I wrote for Global Traveler, Discover the Hip Business Ambience of Modern Osaka, describes some of these recent developments, as well as some of the most notable differences between Osaka and Tokyo. Most peculiar: Tokyoites stand on the left side of a moving escalator while Osakans queue on the right. In fact, so much is this difference ingrained in the national psyche, that The Japan Times ran an article on April 1, 2015, about a new city ordinance that would require all Osakans to stand on the left to avoid confusion.

It was, of course, an April Fool’s Joke. Osakans wouldn’t stand for it.

Japan's tallest building (for now), the 50-story Abeno Harukas contains this observatory on its top floors.

Japan’s tallest building (for now), the 50-story Abeno Harukas contains this observatory on its top floors.

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Hokkaido Ad in New Yorker

 

Sounkyo in Daisetsuzan National Park

Sounkyo in Daisetsuzan National Park (photo by Beth Reiber)

Hokkaido is Japan’s second-largest island and takes up about 22% of the country’s landmass, and yet it has less than 5% of its population. It’s considered Japan’s last frontier, having been settled by Japanese only after 1868 (though it did have an indigenous people called Ainu, who, like American Indians, were discriminated against and assimilated).

A photo of Lake Akan taken on one of my solo hikes

A photo of Lake Akan taken on one of my solo hikes

In other words, Hokkaido has what the rest of Japan doesn’t have: space. With its dairy farms, expansive fields planted with corn and potatoes, crystal-clear lakes and majestic mountain ranges preserved in national parks, Hokkaido is the place to get away from it all. After all, from what I’ve experienced, foreigners flock to Kyoto and other cultural hotspots in Honshu, while Japanese tend to stick to the tried and true, whether it’s a popular hiking trail or a famous scenic mountain top. For that reason, getting off the beaten trail is easy in Japan, and I’ve had some wonderful day hikes all over the country without ever meeting another soul, but nowhere is that easier than in Hokkaido.

This ad I wrote, appearing in the August 10/17 2015 edition of the New Yorker, extols some of Hokkaido’s virtues, though it doesn’t cover nearly enough. For that, you’ll just have to buy a guide book (like my Frommer’s Japan) or go to the Japan National Tourist Organization website.

Hokkaido Advertorial 1

 

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Oklahoma is Oil Country

It’s easy to rave against oil in today’s world–it pollutes, our dependency on it keeps us from developing more environmentally friendly resources, etc.–but the simple fact is that we largely depend on it. While I am hopeful that we can eventually be weaned off oil, it’s useful to remember how it was in the beginning, long before we knew what we know now. It is, after all, a part of our history.

The story of oil in Oklahoma is a good place to start, for it was oil that literally put the region on the map and helped gain OK its statehood. This article I wrote, The Oil Legacy: Oklahoma’s Oil History and Wealth, ¬†for www.gonomad.com is about the northeastern region of the state, where two big names in oil–Frank Phillips and E.W. Marland–struck it rich and built unimaginably huge empires. But as the article shows, success stories don’t always end in happiness.

 

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