Yurts Amongst The Sequoias

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About five hours from my home lies the Giant Sequoia National Monument. It is located in a relatively unknown part of the Sequoia National Forest and it is magnificent. Here at the Trail of 100 Giants you will find over 125 giant sequoias with bases in excess of 10 ft in diameter along with hundreds of lesser bodied trees. The tallest tree rises 220 ft into the air and many of these beauties are over 1,000 years old. They are truly a site to behold as their leaves dance in the soft breezes that flow through the grove.

If you venture up along the Western Divide Highway you will arrive at  The Trail of 100 Giants which is approximately 45 miles from Kernville or 15 miles from California Hot Springs. It has an easily accessible paved walking trail that is almost 1.5 miles in length. Quaint bridges and interpretive signs dot the trail and wildlife can be found feasting on the leaves of the plants growing alongside the trees.

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This is a place our family likes to come. The walk is lovely and when the summer sun is scorching the valley you can count on it being 10-15 degrees cooler. There are also camping and toilet facilities across the road at the Redwood Meadow Campground that have been there for years unchanged. So this past week we were in for a surprise when we entered the campground to find yurt camping available. The yurts had been brought in the previous week and they sat in amongst the trees with glorious views of the nearby meadow.

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According to the manager the yurts were renting for $75 per night and sleep 4. I have to say they are a wonderful addition to the park and they provide another interesting way to experience the beauty of this glorious area.

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To reserve a spot call:

IMG_8519FYI: The Trail of 100 Giants is only accessible during the summer and sometimes early fall before the snow falls.

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Beijing Street Food

I love street food. Just smelling it, looking at it and tasting it makes me giddy with anticipation and pleasure. I just know my taste buds are going to rejoice and do the “happy dance” as these flavors hit my tongue. From the hot red bean cakes found in Seoul to the jack fruit I tasted in Chiang Mai; there is something exciting about supporting vendors who have found their niche in the world of food.

One of the best places I have ever found for street food is in Beijing. Rows and rows of vendors some selling directly from their carts along with the lucky few who have a few tables for their best customers; this is a place where just about any food can be found. This is a place where food is plentiful and cheap…very cheap. If you are on a budget, street food should be your culinary horn of plenty.

But any words I could possibly say about this experience would be bland, like food without spice, wine or salt. So instead I leave you with these pictures of Beijing street food so you can “taste” them yourself.

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The most flavorful dates I have ever eaten

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Corn anyway you like it

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And they say the Iowa State Fair has everything on a stick…I beg to differ!

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Free Entrance Days

Almost all National, State and local Parks have annual free or reduced price entrance days. Museums usually do to0. Here is a list of some of my favorite free admission places to visit this year.

 

Because it is the 100th birthday of  National Park Service there are several days this year where no admission is charged. These include:

  • April 16 through 24: National Park Day
  • August 25 through 28: National Park Service Birthday
  • September 24: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day
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CHICAGO

Art Institute of Chicago: Free for all Illinois residents from 5-8 p.m. Thursdays. Kids 13 and under are always free.

Chicago Children’s Museum: Free 5-8 p.m. every Thursday and the first Sunday of every month for kids 15 and under. Always free to children under 1.

The Field Museum: Several days have already come and gone this year but June 21-23 remains

Museum of Science and Industry: The following days in 2016 remain

June: 1-3, 6-8; September: 6-9, 12-16, 19-23, 26-30; October: 4-6; November: 3,10 December: 1

Several other Chicago attractions also have free days.

NEW YORK CITY

New York Aquarium: Friday 3 pm-closing (pay what you wish)

Whitney Museum of American Art: Friday 7-9:30 pm

Bronx Zoo: Wednesday (pay what you wish)

Metropolitan Museum of Art (always free or pay what you wish)

There are plenty more attractions in and around NYC that offer these deals.

SAN FRANCISCO

Asian Art Museum: First Sunday of every month

de Young: First Tuesday of every month, first full weekend of every month for Bank of America Card Holders

San Francisco Railway Museum: Always free

Bat Area Discovery Museum: Great for kids. First Wednesday of every month.

BALTIMORE

The Walters Art Museum: General admission is free

National Aquarium: Dollar Days are December 3 and 4 this year. Admission is just $1. 1/2 Price Nights after 5 p.m. on Fridays. There is also a Pay What You Want Day every year.

DENVER

Denver Museum of Nature and Science: April 23, May 9, June 5, August 29, September 11, October 24, November 13, December 12

Denver Art Museum: May 7, June 4 and other days throughout the year

Children’s Museum of Denver:May 3 4-8 p.m., June 7 4-8 p.m.

SEATTLE

Seattle Symphony: Various dates. Check schedule.

Museum Of Flight: Free 5p.m.-9 p.m. the first Thursday of the month

Museum of History and Industry: First Thursdays are free and have extended hours (10 a.m. to 8 p.m.).

Washington State Parks: May 8: Sunday Spring Day, June 4: National Trails Day, June 11: National Get Outdoors Day, Aug. 25: National Park Service Birthday, Sept. 24: National Public Lands Day, Nov. 11: Veterans Day

ST. LOUIS

St. Louis Zoo: There is no entrance fee. It is FREE. There are some charges for special events like the sea lion show.

Contemporary Art Museum: is free for all visitors on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

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As you can see there are plenty of free things to do in and around where you live. Just google FREE DAYS in your area for a list of adventures.

*All information provided is subject to change. Verify details before going.

 

Weirdest Airline Flight-Khartoum, Sudan

Several years ago I was flying to Ethiopia when over the loud speaker the captain told us we were making an unscheduled stop in Khartoum, Sudan. Needless to say this made the entire plane go silent. Eerily so.

If you have ever read the book or have seen the documentary of The Lost Boys of Sudan you know that this was a place where you did not want to stop…ever…for any reason. Murder, Mayhem and Mob Rule immediately came to mind as did a certain Iran hostage crisis in the late 1970’s. I wondered just how much my husband would pay to get me back should the need arise. The figure I arrived at was not reassuring.

As the Khartoum came into view the first thing I noticed was that the entire area, as far as the eye could see, looked like it was covered in a sticky inescapable dark brown mud. It’s a color you wouldn’t be caught dead in. The second thing noted was the number of mosques that dotted the city. They were tall and regal against the desert landscape. But what really caught my attention were the guns and missile launchers that lined the runways. They were big and they were plentiful. Not something one usually sees alongside a runway. What were we doing here anyway?

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As we were taxiing a very tense stewardess made an announcement that went something like this:

“Ladies and gentlemen there will be no picture taking while in Khartoum (too late in my case) You will stay in your seats while we are on the ground and no one may use the restroom at this time. Please refrain from making sudden movements and loud noises. We are here to let a UN representative disembark.”

The taste of fear welled up on my tongue…its flavor somewhat salty and bitter.This was hardly the greeting I had expected when arriving (unexpectedly) in a foreign country. Where were the peanuts? Where were the lei’s? Where was the old man playing the oud to make visitors feel welcome? All we could see were armed soldiers prowling around everywhere with numerous UN planes remained parked in their berths.

After about 20 minutes of ear splitting quiet, we were told we would be leaving momentarily…and then sat on the tarmac for another 15 minutes. Then we shoved off leaving Khartoum and all its mysteries behind.

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While this “side adventure” was interesting to say the least, what I will always remember about this trip it was the only country I have ever visited but never got to see.

Borax Visitors Center-Boron, CA

For the past 10 years driving along desolate Hwy 58 running between California and Las Vegas out in the Mojave Desert; I have seen the sign for the Boron Museum and promised myself that I would stop “next time.” Well, that “next time” always came and went waiting for the “next time” to appear. This weekend I stopped. I’m glad I did.

It’s a little creepy taking a road to “nowhere.”  While you see the Boran Operations ahead, the road to the museum goes straight past and up a high gravel road to the top where the Borax Visitor Center sits. It’s a strange and lonely drive.

Once there we explored the outside first where a life sized replica of a Twenty Mule Team is hitched up to carts of Borax ready to make the dangerous ride down the mountain and through the high desert. You will also find a 100 ton truck tire, picnic shelter, and the headframe from the original underground mine. Climb the small hill at the back of the center for stunning view of the open pit mine which descends an amazing 850 ft down. Hard to believe this was an underground mine until the 1950’s!

The Borax Visitor’s Center is small but educational. Retired miners act as guides through the mining process and do they ever know their stuff. Ask them any question and they have the answer. From huge rocks of Borate, to displays of all the products that contain borate, and models of the different parts of the plant below; this is the place you want to go to learn all about borate mining.

The only thing I didn’t care for was the short film that was shown in the theatre. While very educational it felt more like a company promotional piece than a sincere desire to teach visitors more about the mining process. But the highlight of it all was the opening of the back curtain to see the vast 2 mile long mine which mines over three million tons of ore every year. It truly is an amazing site.

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This is one of those short off-road breaks. Give yourself about an hours time to look around, visit the gift shop, view the films and the displays.

Just a few of the products that use borates:

Space Shuttle tiles

Cleaners

Cosmetics

Teflon Cooking Utensils

Sparklers

Fertilizers

Cosmetics

Shower Curtains

Fiberglass

Motor Oils

 

The Visitors Center is located in Boron, CA and is open seven days a week from 9 a.m.- 4:45 p.m. excluding major holidays. This is a FREE museum and they even give you your own sample of Borax to take home with you!

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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.

 

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!