Best Restaurant On The Beach-Cook Islands

Sure you can dine on many a swanky spot along the beach in many parts of the world but for spectacular dining at a decent price it is hard to beat Vaima Polynesian Bar and Restaurant outside Rarotonga in the picture perfect Cook Islands.

Arrive early for steps from the ocean seating with glorious sunsets and the lull of the waves lapping near your feet the ambiance doesn’t get much better than this. As night falls you may spot ghost crabs as they scuttle along in the sand and the stars will align to produce a spectacular natural show.

Vaima serves the best mango daiquiri I have ever tasted. Pair it with the establishments signature salt and pepper calamari served with hot and sour dipping sauce and you will be soon drooling for a second helping of both. Of course, you can never go wrong with the catch of the day which was plucked fresh from the ocean just hours prior. Orange glazed lamb was another favorite.

Come for the atmosphere and stay for the food should be the slogan of this charming eatery. And with the Cook Islands as your daily playground, well, it really doesn’t get much better than this.

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Money Saving Hint: From the United States if you fly with Air New Zealand you should be able to get a free stopover in Auckland. To get this you must book through the airline. It is a great deal if it is still available. Doesn’t hurt to ask!

Empros Thermi At Kos Greece

Sometimes you go to a place and you know without a doubt that it is so special that you will remember it until your dying breath. The Thermals at Kos is one of those places.

Our adventure started in the late evening when we arrived back at our hotel.The owner, Marietta, pulled me aside and in a hushed voice said, “Tonight is the perfect night. You absolutely must go here.”

I was immediately curious. Marietta produced a map and circled a spot that said Empros Thermi. She explained while packed with tourists during the day at night it was of the most relaxing and quiet places on the island. This was the place to be on a night  that was pregnant with a full moon.

We started out a dusk. Silvery rays skipped across the sea as the moon rose high towards the sky. We parked behind a small tavern and began a long, steep descent towards the coast. This trek is not for the faint of heart. If you are not in good health I would recommend going during the day as there are donkeys that can be rented to take you up and down the mountain.

Empros Thermi  are natural volcanic hot springs that emanate from deep within the sea bed. Surrounded by a circular outcropping of rocks that protects the springs from the Agean, we slowly made our way into the water. Sure it was a little smelly but it was a minor inconvenience  as we felt the alternating currents of hot, warm and cold envelope us while languages from every part of the world whispered into the moonlit night.

As I floated there with my daughter while staring out into the mass of stars I recognized this for what it was; one of those rare, sweet, once-in-a-lifetime moments and I whispered to her,” You will remember this evening for the rest of your life and you will tell your children and your grandchildren about the magic that you felt while you were here. Keep this close to your heart where it is meant to be treasured.”

That is just how special that night was and is how amazing it remains to this day.

Empros Thermi is free unless you want to ride the donkeys down and back during the day. Because the Thermi have a rocky bottom bring water shoes.

 

 

Shoshone Falls-Idaho

 

Often referred to as the “Niagara Falls of the West,” Shoshone Falls is located on the Snake River a few miles east of Twin Falls. While locals would like to compare it to Niagara Falls, don’t be fooled…it just isn’t, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t stunning in its own right. Higher than Niagara by 45 feet it is amazing to see the power of the water as it pushes itself over the 1,000 foot rim and into the Snake River Canyon.

 

With hiking trails, look outs, and picnic areas this is a good place to stop for 20 minutes to an hour to unwind. There are also areas for boating and swimming for longer stays.

We visited in the summer when water levels were down due to drought and irrigation. We were told that the best time to visit was in the spring when water levels are at their peak.

Cost is $3 per car.

 

Best Zoo With A View

This summer we traveled to Colorado Springs to visit with our eldest son and our granddaughter.  Colorado Springs is a fascinating place …the counterculture mixing with the nouve rich. It is a place with Jamba Juice and Starbucks on every corner battling it out for the oh-so-mighty dollar.

But it is also a amazing place full of wild untamed beauty and scenic vistas that stretch as far as the eye can see. So image my surprise when we ventured forth to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo when we were able to combine two favorites into one…views for mom and cute cuddly animals for the kids. We hit the jackpot!

Of course, for a kid there is nothing to be beat when feeding a giraffe. Lettuce leaves are the food of choice as the long silky purple tongues reach out to take their favorite treats from your hands. Meeting a giraffe up close and personal is something that you never forget.

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The zoo also has a unique exhibit which showcases animals from the area in a natural setting. Here you will find grizzly bears, moose, mountain lions and many other animals that you might meet if you were hiking in the surrounding mountains. Yes, sometimes you have to look to find these magnificent creatures but that is part of the charm of the place.

Encounter Africa was another favorite giving the kids a chance to see elephants, rhino, and meerkats and a gigantic living termite mound. UGH! That left me itching all over for a few nights after that! The kids also loved the wind tunnel which demonstrated the strength of the winds as they cross the savannah.

For an extra cost you can also take the Mountaineer Sky ride which is essentially a ski-lift chair that rides to the top of the mountain as your travel over the animal exhibits.

This zoo was a big hit for all involved no matter what their age. While admission prices are a little steep it is worth it if you make a day of it. FYI-take along your own bottled water.

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The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. with the last admission at 4 p.m. Hours vary during holidays.

Torpedo Bay Navy Museum-Devonport, New Zealand

One of the issues that those of us face when traveling with children is what we are doing of interest to the kids or will we spend all that entrance fee money only to be confronted with “THIS IS BORING.” Frankly, it is one of our worst nightmares come true.

I was a little concerned before reaching Torpedo Bay Navy Museum that we might find ourselves embroiled in that “I’M BORED”  scenario but I was, oh-so-wrong. The kids loved it here and from the “whoops” of children in their school uniforms it would appear the natives did too.

What’s not to love? First of all the museum is housed in a modern building along the bay with Auckland harbor serving as a pristine backdrop. With a cafe and plenty of space to run if nothing else the museum is a great spot to take in lunch. But wait…there is so much more to see.

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Upon entry kids are given a paper in which to hunt for artifacts and make brass rubbings as they move about the exhibits. There is even a place where children can dress up in old military uniforms and pretend they are in a submarine.

If you are a military history buff there is plenty to be found here. Old photos, interactive exhibits and films are just a few of the things to gaze at. Not only is New Zealand’s Naval history on display you can also find much about WW I, the United States Navy and other military personnel throughout the world who served in both World Wars.

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While the museum also houses artifacts from past sailors throughout history you can also find displays of weaponry, maps, and relics from the early years of deep sea diving. Military medals, military posters and paintings. But wait…before you go you must visit ‘The Boatshed’ an historic building with old boats celebrating whalers, dinghies an other sea worthy vessels who all contributed to maritime efforts in the area.

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Torpedo Bay Navy Museum is FREE and open seven days a week 10a.m.-5 p.m. Closed Christmas, Boxing Day and Good Friday. Take the ferry over from Auckland.

Ten Reasons Why You Should Use Local Transportation While Traveling

One of the best things about traveling is using the local transportation systems. Sure, it is scary at first but there is no better way to get to know the city and her people than traveling amongst them. Besides it is usually the cheapest way to go.

One of the best ways to explore is the subway. Did you know there are 160 metro systems in 148 cities and 55 countries throughout the world? Cities such as Shanghai, Madrid, Toyko, Seoul, Miami, Budapest, Rio de Janeiro, Toronto, Helsinki, Rome, Cleveland, Manila, Lima, Mecca and Stockholm depend on the system to transport their citizens to work and shopping districts. You should depend on them too. HINT:With multi-day discount passes which make one-way travel a dollar or less it is the way to travel on the cheap. Fare prices vary per city but single ticket averages include $1.09 USD Seoul, $2.50 New York and $0.13 USD in Cairo.

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                                   Green Line 2 and the Brown Line 6 on the Seoul Subway

Once you figure out the system it is a breeze. And most systems are very similar. After purchasing your ticket  and putting in the turnstile which opens the gate; you head down to the tracks. Looking at your map you determine where you need to get off. Then you look for the last station at the end of the line and go to the track that lists that station as the end station. Once in the system you will see the name of the stop that you are currently at and on either side the station before and the one after. Stand at the lines and wait for the train to arrive. Now let those exiting out and now (and this is the important part) push your way in.

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In some stations you will also be guided by the color of the line. Follow the color to your tracks and repeat the above. Transfer stations where many lines converge are indicated on maps and signs. Here you may transfer from the green line you have been riding to the orange line that takes you to your destination. Many subways systems also have dual signs with the primary language written first followed by signage in English.

Another way to get around your chosen city is via the bus. While it is often more difficult to learn and time consuming it is often cheaper and great way to talk to locals to find out the best restaurants, parks and stores in the area. Again,  buses have starting and end points to their routes which you just follow in the direction you want to go. Many cities also have electronic maps which show you where the bus is at the present moment and when it should arrive. We found this to be true last month when were were visiting the fairly small city of Xinchang, China.The cost was about 60 cents (USD) each way.

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Boating is another popular way to travel in some cities. Venice immediately comes to mind with its numerous water taxis but San Francisco, New York, Sydney and Istanbul also use taxis and ferries to shuttle people about. While often more expensive than subways and buses they are much more relaxing and provide great scenery along the way. Prices for the Sydney ferry varies from $1.87-$4.50 USD. We took the ferry from Auckland to Devonport and bought a 10 pack for about $31 USD.

Trains also move people into the city from neighboring towns. We rode in and out of the city of Edinburgh from the suburbs of Livingston many times. The trip was scenic and comfortable and we ended up smack dab in the middle of the city just where we wanted to be in about 22 minutes. The cost is about 8.60 (eight pounds sixty) The advance purchase of rail passes brings the cost down considerably.

Chicago is another place with a great train schedule as is Dublin and Zurich. Commuter trains are definitely a bargain especially with long term passes bringing the prices down to about the same as a subway ride in some areas.

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While decreased transportation costs are a great reason to take local transportation many other reasons abound including:

  1. Because they are often faster than taxis in traffic you don’t waste time and can see multiple sites in a short period of time.
  2. Public transportation stations often have ATM’s, banks and shops for added convenience.
  3. Since your goal should be to converse/mix with the locals you can easily ask them to recommend a good restaurant at your next stop or directions to where you are going. Often times if you have a confused look on your face people will stop to help you get on your way.
  4. Public transport allows you to hear things which can result in amazing conversations. All you have to do is say something on the order of “I heard you talking about ______. I am a visitor and am wondering if it is a place worth going to.”
  5. It gives you a different perspective of the city. Places you normally would not get to see suddenly come alive and all you have to do is hop off to visit someplace not on the agenda.
  6. Commuter transportation gives you a chance to talk to the locals. I cannot count the number of times we have met someone while using commuter trains only to be invited to their house for dinner.
  7. Outlying areas suddenly become more accessible. Last month, instead of basing ourselves in Shanghai we took the subway and bus out to the beautiful ancient water city of Xinchang something we surely would have missed had we not used public transportation.
  8. You reduce your carbon footprint using public means rather than a rental car.
  9. Its fun! If you don’t have a subway/ferry/train nearby there is nothing more thrilling for the kids than to take a new form of transportation. I mean seriously, what kid doesn’t love riding on the train!

So get out there and explore the city you are in and commute the way the locals do. I guarantee to you that if you do a whole new world will open up in ways that you had never imagined!

La Brea Tar Pits – Los Angeles, CA

If you have a dinosaur fanatic living with you in your home then you know how intense this fascination with all things ancient can be. While there are no actual dinosaurs here there are the remains of huge sloths, mammoths, and camels left over from the Ice Age. So while you will not see a T-Rex these other massive creatures are sure to suffice for your dino crazy kid.

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The tar pits have been around since the Ice Age. If you are a historian you will discover that the Tongva and Chumash Native people lived in this area. They were unique boatbuilders as they used the tar naturally found in the area to seal the large cracks in their canoes.

The first written account of the tar pits come from the Portola Expedition from Father Crespi describing them as “tar volcanoes” and giving them the name Los Volcanes de Brea.

La Brea is a unique on-site museum and lab in which fossils are consistently being excavated.  You may even be lucky enough to see one being pulled from the muck. After retrieval  you can watch the bones being identified, cleaned and then displayed in the museum’s working glass-encased laboratory. With hands-on exhibits, 3-d films and lectures this is a place for people of all ages. The museum really does an amazing job of presenting fossils in creative ways to educate and keep their visitors entertained.

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Yet, one of the most interesting things to do is to just stroll around the grounds. There you will see the tar bubbling up from the ground. The kids spent an inordinate amount of time just watching the slow rise/fall and listening to the POP of the shiny balls/bubbles of tar. Life-sized models of the long-forgotten creatures that once roamed this area can also be spied on the park-like grounds. So pack your lunch and make a day of it. Your family will be glad you did!

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La Brea Tar Pits are located at 5801 Wilshire Blvd. in Los Angeles. They are open 7 days a week from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. There is an entrance fee.

 

 

Kharola Glacier- Tibet

I just arrived home from Tibet last month and I am still trying to process the whole global warming “thing” in light of what I saw in this beautiful country. While I once thought of Tibet as the snow-bound land of the Yeti, Miche or Migoi (depending on who you ask); I now think it looks like the road between Cedar City, Utan and Las Vegas, Nevada. It is desolate, rocky, and barren. Even Mt. Everest, which we visited, looks bare in places.

The Kharola Glacier is found along the scenic road between Lhasa and Shigatse. With splendid views of Mt. Kalurong and Mt. Nojin Kangsang it is a great place to stop and stretch a bit. The glacier sits at the 17,060 ft level in a place that used to be covered in snow pretty much year round. It isn’t anymore. In fact, the glacier has receded 30-50% depending on who you ask in the past 10 years.

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The day of our visit was beautiful. The sun reflecting off the glacier threw multiple shades of white and gray blue along its ridges. The air felt crisp and clean. Prayer flags whispered and shouted into the air depending upon where you stood.

One of the things I learned while at Kharola was that the Tibetan Buddhists believe that the flapping of the flags are in fact a chant or prayer that will be blown by the wind spreading compassion and good will. Traditional prayer flags are arranged left to right in a precise order: blue, white, red, green and yellow. These five colors represent the five elements of our world. Blue symbolizes the sky, white the wind and air, red represents fire, green is associated with water and yellow symbolizes the earth. The Tibetans believe that when these five elements are in balance that health and harmony are the result. Obviously, balance has not been achieved.

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The sad part of it all is that we can see global warming with our two eyes just by looking at the Tibetan landscape and it now mimics the arid high desert of the Southwest in the United States. Yet, with all the changes that are glaringly obvious we do little to try and stop them. I guess people forget that in this area of the world that without snow there is less water in the rivers. Less water for irrigation equals less food that is available which means more chemicals are used to try to boost production. Less water for the people results in mass migration. It is a concern for all of us…except the yak. I expect when the glacier soon disappears he will still be standing there…the only thing that is left of interest on the pass.

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St. Mary’s Octagon Church…Mt. Entoto, Ethiopia

It is our last day in Ethiopia. The city has grown tired and tiring after many days of work. We hop a bus headed outside of city. The bus starts climbing the steep mountains that ring the city, spewing black smoke as we make our way for Mt. Entoto the highest peak which overlooks the city of Addis Ababa.

We pass small villages composed of tin shacks, rusted and old. At times one can imagine that the rain seeps into the cracks and the old souls who reside within them. Occasionally we pass by traditional round houses made of sticks or plastered mud. Thatched roofs of cut grass look as if they have been thrown there by the wind.

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As we climb further the landscape begins to disappear before our eyes. Where once great forests of eucalyptus trees once stood, only wooden stumps remain. Men hang in the remaining trees cutting the tops and working down. The deforestation is intense, scary and troublesome but understandable. The poor cannot afford gas stoves.

We share the road with small, scruffy donkeys who trot up the steep incline but perhaps the most amazing thing is the donkeys go down with nothing on their backs while old women carry HUGE bundles of sticks on their backs bent-over from the immense weight of their load. It is ironic: donkeys unused and the women used up.

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Finally we arrive at our destination on Mount Entoto.  The whitewashed façade of Saint Mary’s octagonal church captures the sunlight  and beams it through the nearby trees.  We pay a local for a tour.

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First we view what we are told is the oldest church in Ethiopia which is said to be over 1000 years in age. Built into a hill it is primitive and mysterious.

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Then we head over to Saint Mary’s, which was constructed in 1882 by Emperor Menelik for his wife Empress Taitu.  Their coronation was held here in 1889.  As impressive as the church is in its simplicity it’s the inside that captivates us. Bright bold biblical murals line the center of the building. We find paintings depicting the birth of Jesus as well as Jesus healing the blind that are just amazing. Nearby is a museum and the holy spring to which those afflicted with AIDS flock.

This is a spiritual place. A quiet place after all the hustle and bustle of Addis. It is a place where one comes to nourish the soul and replenish the heart. And I am glad we came, because I was not aware how depleted I was after seeing/helping street orphans and families with autism who are ostracized to the point where they are skin and bones unable to secure the help they need. Where autistic people are still chained in place so they cannot run and where they and their families are thrown off buses because they are thought to be “possessed.” And as I sat in the harsh sun I wished that they could be sitting next to me so they could drop their load of misery and worries for just a few minutes and find peace. A peace that is so elusive in a place where the “unloved” and the disabled serve as carpets to be walked upon by the rest of society.

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Video

Wyoming Territorial Prison…Laramie

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One of the more interesting and kid friendly places we visited this summer was the Wyoming Territorial Prison outside Laramie, Wyoming. Totally restored and sitting on 197 acres, it was built in 1872 as a federal prison and operated as such until 1890 when it became a Wyoming State Prison (1890-1903). It is one of the three territorial penitentiaries that still exist in the West and the only one that has survived intact. The most infamous convict to grace it’s interior was Butch Cassidy who served a sentence here for two years.

After arriving at the Visitors Center where friendly Wyoming Folk answer all your questions with smiles upon their faces you exit out a side door onto the immense grounds. After a short walk you arrive at the Warden’s House which was built by the convicts in 1875. Restored to that era there is a lot of the past for the kids to see and experience. including the clothes worn during that time period and how houses were set up.

The prison itself is amazing. Clean, fresh and fully restored; visitors can enter the cells, see the kitchen, and visit a very informative museum. My children learned a lot about the Old West and how people were treated while incarcerated back in the “Good Old Days” and each child was given a convict to look for and learn about. Murderers, horse rustlers, forgers, and con artists (both men and women) were all housed within the prison’s massive stone walls. The clanging shut of the old iron doors is one sound I won’t soon forget.

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My kids loved the Broom Factory which served as an industry for prison labor. Began in 1872 it supplied broom throughout the United States and had an amazing output of some 720 brooms per day. The machinery inside is interesting and you can even doing some making of your own.

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Throughout the grounds there are coaches and prison paddy wagons for kids to climb over and on. For youngsters who have been cooped up in a car it is the perfect way to burn up some energy. There is also an 1880s Ranch Building display with lovingly interprets ranching during that time in the Wyoming Territories. A huge nature preserve with walking trail can also be found on the grounds.

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This is one place you and your family will love. It’s worth the ride!

Open daily May 1 – October 31 from 7am-8pm