Most Beautiful Covered Bridge-Lucerne, Switzerland

Undoubtedly, the most beautiful covered bridge in the world is located in Lucerne, Switzerland. The Chapel Bridge, is also the oldest covered bridge in Europe as well as the oldest surviving truss bridge in the entire world. Named after nearby St. Peter’s Chapel, the bridge crosses the Reuss River in the heart of old Lucerne and its a landmark that cannot be missed.

The bridge was first constructed in 1333 as a form of protection for the city against enemy attack. In the 17th century, Catholic painter Hans Wagmann, began painting scenes which depicted the city’s history and the Catholic Churches influence on it in the interior triangular frames of the bridge. These works of art have been revered by the inhabitants of the city for centuries, so, in 1993 when a major fire occurred on the bridge and many of these paintings were lost, the city was devastated. Lucerne spent millions of dollars reconstructing parts of the bridge but the missing paintings are obvious and seem to haunt the bridge like a ghost in the night.

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Ultimately, the Chapel Bridge is the most beloved symbol of this beautiful old city. Flower boxes line the entire bridge and bustling swans float nearby waiting for hand-outs by the thousands of people who cross it daily.  In addition, there are a few small shops located on the bridge itself selling primarily Swiss products like the world famous Swiss army knives.

When we were planning our trip to Europe, Chapel Bridge was one of our “must-sees” and it was definitely worth the trip. An ancient and beautiful city with a beautifully preserved covered bridge…it doesn’t get much better than this!

Hint: This is a free site. Be sure to take advantage of it by crossing both in daylight and during the night. A nighttime crossing gives Lucerne an entirely different look and vibe with the reflection of the lights off the water. 

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Montezuma Castle-Camp Verde, Arizona

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Let’s get one thing straight right from the get-go. Even though this is referred to as Montezuma Castle, the great Aztec chief himself never lived in this settlement nor contributed to its development; as this Pueblo was built over centuries and then abandoned at least 40 years prior to his birth.

It has been years since I have been to this sacred place that was once home to the Sinagua people but is now the home of  the National Monument that honors them. I still remember the raw feelings of the life force that still swirls throughout the canyon as well as a sense of awe that these native people, who lived so long ago, could design buildings and pottery that were so impressive and long lasting. Descendants of these ancient people live on in the Hopi and other native peoples of the Southwest.

The Castle sits about 90 ft up a sheer limestone cliff and was built over time and occupied from about 1100-1450 AD. though there is archaeological evidence that the Sinagua were in the area since 700 AD.  The main building contains about 20 rooms and is approximately five stories high. It was built within an alcove which allowed it to remain protected from the elements and was placed high enough to avoid the seasonal flooding that occurred on Beaver Creek which lay directly below this village. It is constructed from huge chunks of limestone and from clay obtained from the creek bed beneath the Pueblo. The ceilings were made of thatch that was procured from the Arizona sycamore.

One of the more interesting facts about Montezuma Castle was that it was abandoned for some time due to volcanic eruption of Sunset Crater but was later re-occupied and agricultural production was resumed after the effects of the eruption diminished.

The dwellings and the 860 acres that surround them were declared a United States National Monument in 1906 with the signing of the American Antiquities Act. Early visitors were allowed to climb ladders into the buildings but due to damage from these well meaning visitors the practiced was halted in 1951. Today you can only see Montezuma Castle from viewing platforms or along the 1/3 mile loop trail that winds below the pueblo. However,  it is easy to learn about Sinagua culture and see artifacts from the area at the Visitor Center.

This National Park is located near Camp Verde, Arizona off Interstate 17. It is open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. everyday except Christmas.

There is a $10 fee to enter Montezuma Castle and the Tuzigoot National Monument which is valid for 7 days. Children under 15 are free.

HINT: Buy a National Park Pass ($80) which allows access to all National Parks and Federal Recreation Lands for a year for the pass holder + 2 adults. And if you are 62 years of age or older A Senior Pass can be purchased for $10 which allows you and three adults into all the National Parks without incurring additional entrance fees.

 

 

Best Time To See Mt. Rushmore-Keystone, South Dakota

With the day crowds being what they are at our nations National Parks it often makes the park experience less than desirable. Too many people in too small of a space =grumpy, shoving, tired and hot adults who are in desperate need of deodorant. Not exactly what one thinks of when they envision a trip of a life time. That is why the Evening Lighting Ceremony at Mt. Rushmore is the perfect time to visit one of our most beloved parks.

The first time I visited Mt. Rushmore was when I was about 8 years old. I didn’t remember much about it because the only thing an 7 year-old would take away from the experience is wondering how much kleenex it would take to blow Washington’s nose. So this year as we caravanned across the country we sought activities that would be enjoyable for our children. Now Mt. Rushmore is questionable at best for kids (they look for all of 1 minute and then want to spend the next 20 minutes in the gift shop) but what better way to see it than at night when the sizzling sun has disappeared and temperature has dropped a good 25 degrees. Yes, this is the perfect time to visit.

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From the end of May until Near the end of May until the end of September Mt. Rushmore comes alive at night. At 8 or 9 p.m., depending on the month, your first glimpse of the area is the Avenue of Flags and it is a sight to behold when its lit up. The 56 flags are arranged in alphabetical order which include the 50 states, one district, three territories and two commonwealths of the United States of America. Bold colors with interesting stories line the promenade which will enthrall even the youngest child.

From there you proceed to the outside theatre where visitors watch a 20 minute film about the presidents whose faces grace the granite…George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. Their faces are a remarkable 60 ft high and a combined 185 ft long. Begun in 1927 by sculptor Gutzon Borglum his Shrine of Democracy Sculpture shines as a beacon for democracy throughout the world since its completion in 1941.

After the film, visitors join in the singing of a patriotic song and veterans are invited to the stage where they give their name and their branch of service. If you are into military patriotism this is a treat as you see the last of the WWII vets slowly make their way forward… frail but proud. Spend some time with them after the show and ask them about their experiences. You will be glad that you did.

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Then, finally, when things just couldn’t get anymore emotional the mountain is illuminated and a hush falls over the crowd. The beauty and the enormity of the sculpture fills the dark as the lights shine into every nook and cranny so you see items which escape you in the daylight and all of a sudden everyone lets out a collective sigh of delight and awe. It really is just that magical!

So if you are planning a trip to Mt. Rushmore remember the best part of the day to visit the monument is really at night!

For more information visit the park service website at:

http://www.nps.gov/moru/index.htm

Exploratorium-Embarcadero at San Francisco

Billing itself as a public learning laboratory the Exploratorium encourages kids and adults alike to use science, art, and their senses to explore the world around them. Located on the Embarcadero this stunning location on the wharf is worth the cost of admission in and of itself.

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The kids will easily want to spend the entire day visiting the hands-on exhibits. During one hour they may spend their time learning how neurons react while actually working with them and perhaps learning about Mars while investigating its many up close and personal images. Many times throughout the day children can take classes in subjects such as model plane building and flying. Rotating exhibits often include astonishing art which encourages visitors to use machines that allow sculptures to change shape and purpose. And using a vocal visualizer will delight your kids as they use their voices to transform laser lights into incredible shapes and patterns. With both inside and outside venues it allows the little ones to burn off some energy easily.

This place is science as it is meant to be explored but mostly it is just a place where your kid can engage in FUN!

When everyone gets in need of their own fuel you can head down to the eatery. The food is good but be prepared to shell out some dough for fresh salads and homemade mac and cheese. After noshing down head out to one of the decks where you can glimpse the bridge and watch the boats ply the waters.

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The Exploratorium also sponsors “After Dark Nights” programs for adults only. Here you can have a lesierly dinner and sip a few cocktails too. Pairings are also offered featuring some of the best organic foods in the area. Obviously, this is a great place to meet like minded folk and I suspect it is probably a better pick up place than the local grocery store!

HINT: Yes, I agree completely that ticket prices of  $29 for adults is a bit pricey but if you invest in a CITY PASS in which discounts are provided to some of the areas favorite tourist sites then you can save 44%. Prices are a little less for youth and FREE to kids 3 and under. But smart San Franciscans wait until the six annual FREE days to visit and California Public School Teachers can receive free entry by filling out a form online. Check the website for dates.

One Of The Strangest Places I Have Ever Stayed-Belize

Admittedly, it has been about seven years since I have been to the Maruba Resort and Jungle Spa so things may have changed but for this hippie at heart I hope not because there is no other place like it on earth.

We booked this “exotic” jungle hotel through Expedia. The price was right and the pictures were enticing. When we arrived we felt like we had been transported back to the early 1970’s a time of peace and free love. Something about the resort was just a little quirky and  very “groovy.” Turns out a doctor had spent years building this place with his loving hands. With visionary huts and uniquely decorated rooms it wasn’t hard to get into the “RELAX…you are on vacation”vibe . The viper rum with a real snake in the bottle added to the “high” of the place and it definitely made you want to curl up by the pool in a comfy lounge after drinking it as its warmth slowly snaked and spread throughout your body.

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The food at Maruba was fabulous and the hibiscus flowers gracing every plate was a huge change from modern hotel fare. There was also a spa offering such delights as mud baths/massages, body scrubs and manicures to pamper the senses. We partook of several spa treatments and came away from them relaxed from the top of our heads to the bottom of our toes; our souls soothed and quenched. Lush wildflowers and orchids added to the natural beauty of the place along with the natural hot baths that magically melted our bodies upon entering the water.

The hotel also rented bicycles so we biked into the nearest “town” and saw a giant anteater run across the road along the way. We sampled local food in town (yum) and when we returned we booked a river journey to a lost Mayan civilization (more about that another time) Horseback riding was also available along with jungle hikes and private exercise lessons.

It wasn’t until we had been there a few days and had seen the huge stockpile of carved penises, naked folks and fertility gods hidden along the jungle pathways that we finally got up the courage and asked…yep the place had been a swingers club back in the day hence the “make love not war” feeling that permeated the place and kept you “in the mood.” Needless to say, we had a very romantic and wonderful time with all the gentle reminders that love and relaxation were the name of the game here.

HINT: You are in the jungle so be sure to bring bug spray. We did not and ended up remembering our trip longer than we would have like after contracting Dengue Fever. We have no idea if it was at Maruba or on Ambergris Caye that the nasty mosquito bit us but it is wise to take precautions wherever you go in Belize.

 

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!

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!