As the snowmelt begins to pour off the Alps and wildflowers emerge in the meadows, I find it hard to banish thoughts of hiking in Switzerland. My plans for this year will focus on California’s Sierra Nevada and Washington’s Cascades, but my heart will be in Switzerland.
A few years ago I tromped around the Jungfrau region with friends, basing ourselves in the tidy village of Mürren that clings to a ridge above the Lauterbrunnen Valley with a front-row view of the legendary peaks the Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau. A year before that, with young children in tow, my father-in-law, wife, and I trekked the trails out of Grindelwald in the shadow of the Eiger. Both experiences left me wondering if it could get any better.
As everyone knows, it can always get better. These days I’m dreaming of hiking through the terraced vineyards above Lake Geneva in the Lavaux region between Lausanne and Vevey. No, this isn’t alpine hiking, and the trail I have in mind will take only half a day to complete, but the area is near the top of my list of the world’s most astoundingly beautiful places. Continue reading »
The powerful earthquake that struck near Concepcion Feb. 27 will affect Chile for years. While much of the country’s tourist infrastructure was undamaged and tourism officials are urging travelers not to cancel their plans to visit, the impact on Chile’s citizens could last a long time.
The New York Times reported that many buildings in Santiago appeared unscathed from the outside, but inside, they were heavily damaged. Other reports suggest that rebuilding will take three to four years. And the quake created little curiosities, such as moving Concepcion 10 feet closer to the sea, and Buenos Aires an inch closer. The temblor could even spike the cost of paper 5 percent and take a huge bite out of the supply of Chilean wine.
It’s that time again: Ash Wednesday is on the horizon, the season of Lent is calling for sacrifice, and Rio’s Carnival celebration is in full swing. Hundreds of thousands of spectators come to watch the dancers strut their stuff and take part in the world’s sexiest party, but most of them must stay on the sidelines during the parades, serious competitions for the 12 top samba schools vying for the crown each year.
But that didn’t deter Nicole Zimmerman, a Brazilian-born American who danced her way into a samba school to experience Carnival from the inside out. She tells her story in the LA Times.
If you can’t get to Rio for tonight’s “special groups” parade (the second of the big competition) you haven’t missed out. The top six samba clubs march again Feb. 20 in the Champions Parade.
Every year around this time the New York Times (and other publications) publish lists of their favorite destinations for the new year. Often places on the list are obvious, often not, and sometimes there are real surprises.
On the Times’s list this year I’d put Copenhagen, Shanghai, and Costa Rica in the first category, Damascus, Bahia, and Istanbul in the second category, and Shenzhen (China), Koh Kood (Thailand), and Montenegro in the third.
Number 1 on the list, however, is Sri Lanka, and that’s a place I’d put at the top of my list for this year, a country I last visited in 1979. The island is just emerging from three decades of civil war and finally, one hopes, can put such strife behind. The island is rich in archaeological treasures, ancient culture, exotic (from a Western perspective) wildlife, and pristine beaches. Not to mention the home of a revered relic, “Buddha’s Tooth.” It’s time for a return visit.
Spud Hilton reported in the San Francisco Chronicle the other day a new spin on the top 10 lists we always see at this time of year. Not the best beaches or golf courses or hot cities for the new year, but the Developing World’s 10 Best Ethical Destinations.
The list was compiled by Jeff Greenwald and Christy Hoover at EthicalTraveler.org, a nonprofit organization (part of the Earth Island Institute) that urges travelers to spend their travel dollars in ways that protect human rights and minimize impacts on the environment. They acknowledge that no country on the list is perfect (what country off the list is?) but they found lots of hope and inspiration in many places. Continue reading »
Every year around this time we hear railing against the commercialization of Christmas, and the exhortations to shop and buy and give do get tiring, but they’re nothing new. In fact, they’ve been around a long time, since the Middle Ages, as the many Christmas markets across Europe attest.
The oldest, in the French city of Strasbourg in Alsace on the German border, has been active since 1570. Georgia Hesse, in the San Francisco Chronicle, ably describes the appeal of such markets and the particular draw of Strasbourg, where visitors stroll the lanes where Goethe, Gutenberg, and Albert Schweitzer once wandered.
Many markets last through New Year’s Day and some even run through the Epiphany on January 6, but others close up shop on Christmas Eve, so hurry, time’s running out.
Can you imagine having the Grand Canyon to yourself? No traffic to the South Rim, no hordes at the visitor center? Henry Shukman in The New York Times takes us on a long hike below the rim during the best time of year for exploration: now.
Why now? Because nobody’s there in winter, and because the sun is your friend, not your foe, when the temperatures drop.
But no matter the season, a hike to the bottom of the canyon is a challenge even for fit hikers. The relentless downhill (a full mile in elevation) takes its toll on the knees, only to force you to turn around and climb back up a mile to get out. But it’s the best way to appreciate the stunning landscape, with layers of rock chronicling the earth’s development, the oldest being almost two billion years old. And challenging as it may be, even an eight-year-old can do it, as Henry’s traveling companion, his son Saul, proves.
One October a few years ago I spent a couple of days in Churchill, Manitoba looking for polar bears. Churchill is famously the “Polar Bear Capital of the World” because so many bears come in to den when the pack ice breaks up on Hudson Bay. In the fall, when Hudson Bay begins to freeze, ice forms first around the spit of land where Churchill sits, and the bears know it. That’s why they gang up here, why thousands of tourists like me come to gawk.
But now there’s a new game in town: snorkeling with belugas. Yep, you can don a dry suit and slip into water that was frozen solid last week and come nose to nose with beluga whales. John Flinn took the plunge and conveyed his experience in the San Francisco Chronicle this week. Continue reading »
One night some years ago I arrived in Guanajuato, Mexico for the first time, knowing little about the place beyond its being yet another Spanish colonial city. When the bus couldn’t get anywhere near my hotel on Jardin de la Union because the streets were jammed with revelers, I got out, shouldered my bags, and plunged into the crowd.
Maybe it was the long bus ride that had warped my ability to make sense of my surroundings, or it could have been my diet of magic realism literature I was on at the time, but the scene I wound through that night presented the kind of phantasmagoria that can induce hallucinations. Was everyone in costume? Was it a warmup for Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead? Colors flashed by, shouts and laughter and the melodious rhythms of Spanish ricocheted off balconied buildings. Smoke from street stalls carried the scent of grilled meat. And I continued to push my way, gently because this was a happy throng, across the plaza to the hotel. Continue reading »
In the late ’60s and early ’70s the thought of a trip down the Mekong was the stuff of nightmares. The place was a war zone, and the only way to see it was courtesy of Uncle Sam. But thankfully times change, and today the great river that runs from China through Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam is accessible to anyone who wants to put paddle to water, assuming you have the proper paperwork and know your way around.
Which is a good reason to find an outfitter who can handle the logistics. Some top adventure companies offer trips on the Mekong, but these are mostly cruises. For journeys by kayak, Bangkok-based river explorer Steve Van Beek brings something extra: 40 years of residence in Southeast Asia and almost as many years exploring the region’s rivers. Continue reading »