Category: Uncategorized

Happy New Year (fireworks)

Some great pics of fireworks around the world here. Starting at pic 5, they have some pics of London’s fireworks but I know from personal experience that it can be pretty tough to get a decent view of the fireworks in London. My advice is to stick to enjoying the photos unless you can arrange some sort of VIP fireworks viewing.

In Zurich we actually had a great look at the New Year’s fireworks – it just wasn’t terribly crowded. But the way they did the fireworks, none of the old buildings or anything were in the background. Could be why Zurich didn’t make the slideshow.

Anyway, happy New Year!

A Paradise on Earth – Boracay

Enjoy this travel essay from one of my students.

Crystal clear seawater, sparkling sand on the beach, waving palm trees, gentle sound of the waves, warm breeze coming from the sea…. Many people might agree that I am describing what we call a “paradise” that we all dream of. It is truly a scene of paradise but which actually exists on earth. An Island of the Philippines called ‘Boracay’ is the best paradise-like beach that I have ever been to with my family 3 years ago. If you are a type of person who loves to experience different activities, this island is a perfect place for you to visit. The best thing about Boracay is that there are so many things to experience. You can ride unusual transportations that are only in the Philippines, see beautiful Boracay beach, try exciting watersports, eat wonderful local seafood. Although I didn’t expect much from this trip to Boracay since I always preferred mountains to sea, it turned out to be the best trip I ever had in my life.

There are two ways to get to Boracay Island: One is flying on a moth plane or riding a boat. Since my family was living in Manila, which is 320km far from Boracay Island, we decided to go to the Island by plane. The moth plane that we were on was severely shaking from side to side because of the wind. After 40 minutes of nervous flying, we finally arrived in Boracay. I still remember that sweet smell of the Island that probably came from fruit trees all around the airport. In order to go the white beach in Boracay Island, we rode a boat again. From a samll harbor, we took a ‘jeepney’ which is the most popular transportation in the Philippines. It is like a mini-bus and large enough to take 10 people. When we arrived near the beach, we again rode a ‘tricycle’ which is a motorcycle that attached another room for the passenger. From the beginning of the trip, it was very interesting since I rode all kinds of transportations to get to Boracay. It was my first trip which I had so many rides by plane, boat, jeepney, and tricycle. Unlike other ordinary travel, Boracay allowed me to experience different kinds of transportations.

As soon as our family unpacked all the belongings with us, we ran to the beach. I was dazzled by a strong but warm sunlight and beautiful scenery in front of me. It was alike the scene that I always imagined as a ‘paradise’! Endless beach that is so wide, white sand on the ground which was shining, crystal clear seawater… All these things were right in front of me. My family swam in the sea which was so clear and cool and got a suntan lying on beach chairs that were all free for tourists. Boracay beach is endless and wide that everyone could feel a freedom of the nature. Some people were lying on the beach, some people were playing volley ball, and some kids were building a sandcastle. The one word that I can come up with Boracay was ‘restfulness’. With such a beautiful scenery right in front of me, I forgot all the worries and troubles that bothered me just a minute ago.

There were various watersports that I could experience such as snorkeling, scuba diving, parasailing, and windsurfing. My brother and I did snorkeling and parasailing while my parents did scuba diving. While I was snorkeling, I saw plenty of fish and corals under the sea with all fancy colors. This amazing view that I was looking was more wonderful than I’ve imagined watching BBC documentaries on ocean. When I was parasailing over the Boracay, I saw the far end of the Island and shining horizontal line of the Boracay. It was so beautiful that I completely forgot the fact that I was flying really high up in the sky alone. I was not scared but felt enormous freedom and delightedness. The scene in front of me was absolutely breathtaking and I wish I could do all the activities if I visit Boracay again in the future.

My family really liked the food that we had in Boracay. Since it was an Island, all kinds of fresh seafood were available. We had steamed and fried king crab, seasoned shrimps, oyster soup and so on. Garlic rice which was served every morning in our resort was also very good that I can never forget that special taste. I almost devoured all the food because they were so good and unique. Although it was a bit expensive, all foods were worth the price. In Boracay, I also enjoyed all kinds of juices that are made of fresh fruits such as mango, papaya, and coconut. It really felt like heaven when I was lying on the beach, taking a sip of cool coconut juice.

My special trip to Boracay was one of the best places that I want to recommend to other people. Without seeing beautiful view and trying all the activities in Boracay, I would think that a paradise does not exist on earth. Boracay was full of peppiness and fun that anyone can enjoy and relax at the same time. Regardless of the age, Boracay would be the best place to all families, friends, and couples. I experienced all interesting rides, enjoyed beautiful views, tried special watersports, and ate lots of food and fruits. I strongly recommend all the people who are looking for a paradise to visit Boracay as soon as possible. I might visit this place again and again when I feel I’m exhausted since I was fully energized after staying 5 days in Boracay. No matter how enthusiastically I played and enjoyed for 5 days, I was not tired at all and I think that is why Boracay is loved by so many tourists as well. I really hope to visit my paradise again with my family and friends when I visit the Philippines. I already miss my paradise on earth, Boracay!

by Deuk Kyung Cho

Related old blog entry: When should you visit Boracay?

Travel Destination – The Isle of Mull (Inner Hebrides)

The Inner Hebrides islands just off the western coast of Scotland are popular vacation spots for travelers from the UK, having some similarities to the San Juan and Vancouver islands of the Pacific Northwest. While in the Hebrides, George Orwell found inspiration for his novel 1984, and JM Barrie wrote a screenplay adaptation of Peter Pan. Mull, the 4th largest Scottish island, has fewer than 3,000 permanent residents, but a population that grows considerably with tourists arriving on day trips or staying longer on summer vacations. The mysterious, somewhat foreboding, remote locations on Mull were featured in a number of movies including Entrapment, Kidnapped, Eye of the Needle, and Endgame. The BBC chose the quaint, colorful atmosphere of Tobermory “Mary’s Well,” the capital, for the children’s TV series Balamory. The moderate climate, dramatic scenery, and the wide diversity and abundance of plant and animal life attract naturalists, photographers, bird watchers, and eco-tourists. For some time, the Isle of Mull has fascinated artists, writers, and musicians, as well as the inevitable romanticist.

What to see & do:

Glengorm Castle overlooking the Atlantic with a view as far as the Outer Hebrides is also a large farm and market garden with B&B and self-catering accommodations. Visit the Steadings Art Gallery of local artwork, have lunch at the Coffee Shop, and shop for jams, coffees, produce, and other island products at the Farm Shop. Hours: 12Noon-4:30pm, Easter – Oct, indoor/outdoor dining.

You can take a taxi from Tobermory to Glengorm, about 4 miles.

Duart Castle above the Sound of Mull has belonged to the Clan MacLean for over 400 years. Work is ongoing, but the more extensive repairs have been completed, and you can walk through the dungeons and castle rooms, visit the gift shop, and tearoom.

Closed until 1 Apr 2012, reopens Sun-Thurs, 11-4pm. 1 May-18 Oct, 10-5:30pm.

Admission: $8.50, $4, & $21 (family of 4). Special event: 100-year gathering of the Clan, 18-24 Jun 2012.

The Au Tobar Arts Centre, one of the largest entertainment venues in the UK, features workshops, dance classes, musical performances, art exhibitions, and the Mull Theatre. The Centre will contribute orchestra and opera musical compositions, visual art displays, and digital innovations to London’s huge Cultural Olympiad in 2012. The Mull Theatre, established in 1966 as the world’s smallest professional Little Theatre, has become a part of the Arts Centre. Au Tobar sponsors playwrights’ workshops, apprenticeships in creative writing for individuals and groups, and drama courses at Argyll College. Mull Theatre has featured numerous theatrical productions, operas, and standup comedy throughout Scotland and in London’s West End. Avg price for events – $15 p/p. Free admission to Au Tobar Centre. (see websites for more info)

Au Tobar Cafè & Gift Shop: Mar-Apr, Tues-Sat, 10-4pm. May-Sep, 10-5pm. Oct-Dec, Tues-Sat, 10-4pm.

Guided Hikes & Walks – Mull Magic online offers guided tours of the island including the Mountain Hike through the highlands and a leisurely climb up Ben More or some of the smaller mountains. Price: $70 p/p. Many travelers prefer the shorter 5-7 mile Butterfly Walk through the grasslands and forest paths to observe the island’s butterflies and wildflowers, followed by a picnic on the beach. Hikers will encounter many species of bird life such as the white-tailed and golden eagles and Ptarmigan grouse, peregrines, owls, and plovers on the moors and along the coast. Tours vary in distance and fitness level, but all include door-to-door service, morning coffee, a picnic lunch, and afternoon tea. Bring your camera; binoculars are provided. Prices: From $58 p/p. (See website for booking.)

Other Activities: Arrange a whale watching trip, a fishing cruise, or a diving adventure. (See Island Encounter website for information on wildlife and bird watching safaris – all day tour, with lunch and door to door service, $58 p/p.)

Where to stay:

The well-known Tobermory Hotel, owned by Ian and Andi Stevens, is a traveler’s favorite. Spacious, comfortable rooms, with excellent service and friendly staff, the Tobermory is an ideal place to relax, have a vintage Scotch whiskey, and just let the world go by. Rates (large dbl): $142 (winter), $200 (summer). 5% discount on stays of 5 nights or longer.

The upscale Isle of Mull Hotel & Spa at Craignure (about 20 miles from Tobermory) offers excellent accommodations, convenient location near the ferry, and a fully equipped spa. Rates: $341 single, $387 double, includes all spa services and breakfast.

The Western Isles hotel is also recommended, rates from $108 single and $163 dbl, sea views, breakfast included.

Self-catering holiday accommodations are readily available. Baliscate House in a lovely garden setting has self-catering apartments with bedrooms, living and dining areas, and kitchenettes. Linens, TV, and small appliances included. About a 10-minute walk to the sea and the town of Tobermory. Rates: $619/week, $270/3 days. Ach-Na-Brae offers two 3-bedroom, 2-bath cottages with every modern amenity and convenience. Seasonal rates from $543 to $1,000/week. Ardfenaig Farmhouse near the beach sleeps 7, $543/week, and Puffer Aground is an old converted blacksmith’s house, central village location, $310/week.

Places to eat:

The Water’s Edge at the Tobermory Hotel offers a tempting menu of fresh seafood, Scottish meats, wild game, and vegetarian, carefully selected by renowned Head Chef Helen Swinbanks, a local resident of Mull. Rated highly for fine dining and impeccable service. Expensive. Reservations.

Hours: 7-9pm. Prices: $50 & up.

The Mish-dish at the Mishnish Hotel serves a good selection of bar type meals, wines, beers, and whiskies in the pub downstairs. One Up restaurant upstairs offers steaks and seafood Open: Daily except Mondays: 6:30-Closing. Avg Price: $31 p/p. Reservations.

Macdonald Arms Hotel Pub received excellent reviews from travelers who recommended it for good food, friendly service, and very reasonable prices. Not fancy, but extremely popular with the locals, as well. Avg Prices: From $8 p/p

Open all year. Hours: 12:30-2pm (lunch), 6:30-8pm (dinner).

Posh Nosh is a small cafè on Main Street in Tobermory, serving lunch, dinner, burgers, and fish. Open: Daily, 10-4pm.

Sagar Balti in Tobermory is the only restaurant on Mull offering Tandoori cuisine. Hours: 12Noon-2pm & 5:30-11:30pm. Easter to October. 3-crse lunch for $12.00 p/p.

Getting here: Caledonian MacBrayne ferry service from the mainland to Mull, primarily from the town of Oban to Craignure (45 minutes) – $102 for 2 persons, 1 vehicle. Other ferries from Kilchoan to Tobermory (35 minutes), $78, and Lochaline to Fishnish (15 minutes), $42. Timetables, current ticket prices, & reservations online at

Sharon L Slayton

Some big travel stories of 2011

According to this article, here are 2011’s top travel stories (intrerestingly as I write this the new stations here in Korea are talking about only the just-announced death of Kin Jong Il – which is big news but probably not so big that North Korea becomes a popular tourist spot in 2012):

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner – They say the cabin is much more comfortable than other planes’ cabins because of the pressure. Plus the planes are supposed to be quiet. I like quiet.

Mexico – the number of cruise-ship passengers to Mexico dropped from about 500,000 to 58,000 in 2011 but that is expected to rebound in 2012 since the cruise ports have been mostly unaffected by violence.

Egypt – Egypt is thought to have drawn only 10 million international visitors in 2011, down from 14.8 million a year earlier.

The 9/11 Memorial in NYC – they say it instantly became a must-see.

Southwest – while this airline won’t slay passengers with extra fees, their ticket prices aren’t all that cheap anymore.

And there are a few more.

Deserted amusement park in China

Interesting travel story here that comes with some great pictures of an abandoned theme park in China. The author claims this is evidence of some tricky economic issues in China. Is this more evidence that China will never rule the world?

My fellow Americans – what are you doing for Thanksgiving?

My Thanksgiving didn’t really involve travel, but it is always impacted by being an expat. Turkey, you see, is a pretty rare food in Korea, where most people don’t even have ovens to bake with even if they could buy turkeys in the supermarket (which you can’t).

So I’ve had many Thanksgivings with no turkey. This Thanksgiving was not one of them. My wife has a new credit card that’s really good for travelers. The annual fee is 100 bucks a year or so (it’s a Korean card) but you get access to some airport lounges and a nice points system. Plus you get a choice of gifts. My wife chose the $100 gift card to any restaurant in the Seoul Marriott hotel.

So we went there for lunch today. It’s the kind of buffet where you order the main dish off the menu but the appetizers and desserts are all you can eat. And quite tasty. And the appetizers part included Turkey, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce.

I have a little buffet problem. I have to try everything. And I have to go back for at least seconds on everything I like. So today I ate until it hurt in true Thanksgiving fashion. But at least some of what hurt me was turkey.

And even though I ate until it hurt, and the food was excellent, the price was $130 so it wasn’t easy to get my money’s worth. At least the 100 dollar gift card helped.

Mancunian on flying, preferably not with Gerard Depardieu

Just to give an update on my last posting, I gave up trying to use USAir frequent flyer miles and bought the ticket. Its from Newark to Manchester and then back from Manchester to Newark via London. Its on Lufthansa flight numbers, although they are actually operated by Continental and the ticket was issued by British Midland. It all had to be done that way to keep the price down. As far as I can remember from working in the airline industry, I have to call Continental to get seats assigned, but I already have a feeling that may be an ordeal…

When I first started working for an airline, we had to dress up to fly in first or business class; men had to wear a coat and tie, women a dress or skirt or smart pants. Of course, I didn’t always end up at the front of the plane and felt quite uncomfortable sitting in my suit in a cramped coach seat. The logic behind this policy was that as we were representing the airline, we should dress accordingly, although this seemed to be strange logic as we were not meant to tell fellow passengers that we were traveling ‘non revenue’. I also felt a bit silly sitting on a flight to the Caribbean, dressed up, while everyone else of course, was in their shorts and Hawaiian shirts. This rule was eventually relaxed, although I don’t know whether other airlines have similar policies for their staff who are traveling.

But on the subject of being well dressed, there does seem to be some evidence that a passenger who is well turned out is generally going to get better treatment than someone who is scruffy, as this USA Today story suggests. I think it is instinctive to give an upgrade to someone who is more appropriately dressed, although it isn’t necessarily fair.

This blog has reported on various types of rude or inappropriate behavior, either on planes, at the airport, or on cruise ships, but this incident is really quite unpleasant. Reports say that the French actor Gerard Depardieu could not wait to go to the bathroom so went on the floor. I have to admit, that is one of my fears every time I fly, that I will be dying for the toilet and the seat belt sign just wont get turned off. That never seems to stop other people from using the toilet at inappropriate times – once when I flew into Raleigh Durham airport in North Carolina, the plane had literally just touched down when someone got up from his seat and walked to the back of the plane to use the toilet.

Finally, if you find airports fascinating, you may be interested to learn that the world’s largest model airport has just opened in Germany, based somewhat on the Hamburg airport. The model took about 6 years to build and cost around $5 million. I wonder if they have air traffic control delays…?

Guest post by Mancunian

Turku days 1 & 2 – nice but nothing special

Turku day 1

The train from Helsinki to Turku took 2 hours and was nearly empty. At 30 euros each it wasn’t cheap. The overhead luggage racks were too small for our stuff but with 80% of the seats empty, it was comfy.

Once we got to Turku, it took us an hour to find our hotel which is maybe 10 minutes from the train station. The Birgitta Turku Guest House doesn’t have directions on their website and the map they have is pretty misleading. Several locals gave us bad directions before one helped us figure out where to go.

The guest house itself is an interesting place to stay, right behind a church, run by nuns, and laid out unlike any hotel I’ve ever seen.

Well after an hour of carrying all our luggage (my wife has a bad back) I needed a shower so around 5:00 we finally headed out to find some food. The restaurant I had picked out from my Lonely Planet (2006) was nowhere to be found but we stopped in an antique store, strolled along the river, and then talked to the tourist information people.

And then we found Harald’s, a viking-themed restaurant. It might be a chain as I know there’s one in Turku and one in Tampere. I ended up eating there alone because my wife didn’t like the decor (animal furs and things). I wanted to try reindeer but the reindeer fillet came with liver and I don’t like any liver. The reindeer sausage came with bear sausage. I don’t think I want to eat an animal that’s obviously higher than me on the food chain (or would be if humans fought fair). I settled for ox in a pot, sweet tar-flavored beer, and chocolate cake which I got to go so my wife could have some. It was an interesting meal.

Then we walked around a bit, stopped in a few shops, and headed back to the hotel with my wife trying to change our plans so we don’t stay 6 nights here. Helsinkians will be happy to hear that we do like Helsinki better than Turku (we’re told the two cities have a kind of rivalry).

While shopping, we say an awesome winter coat for dogs that covers both the front and back legs, but costs 60 euros.

Turku day 2

We got off to an early start today and walked a ways to Turku Castle, passing an interesting boat-turned cafe and hostel where we happened to meet the owner of the boat and play with his puppy (a Belgian ship dog that has been bred to catch rodents and won’t be bigger than 5 kilograms). The boat he owns, the SS Borea, is the same ferry he took from Turku to Stockholm as a boy and is his first boat memory.

Anyhow, Turku Castle was interesting but I don’t see why Lonely Planet calls it the biggest tourist attraction in Finland. It was worth visiting since we were in Turku anyway, but it’s not enough of a reason to come to Turku if you ask me. It’s a castle with a few seemingly random museum displays (archaeology, toys, dolls, dresses, ceramics, coins, etc.) Several parts were closed today, one for a wedding and one for some other private event. Even though we didn’t see it all we spent over 2 hours there. Admission was 8 euros a piece but after paying we noticed that you could probably walk in without ever buying a ticket.

Heading back into town we stopped at the Maritime Museum but decided not to spend the rest of the day there (which we would have done if we’d spent 12 euros each to get in to the 2 buildings and 3 ships).

Instead we stopped for some cappuccino and then continued on to the center of town. That was a pretty long walk – maybe an hour at a tourist’s pace. The central market was closed as were most of the stores on Saturday afternoon / evening. We did find a couple of department stores that we scoured for sales and I did manage to buy myself a nice dress shirt.

On the way back we stopped at the oldest pizza place in Turku (Pizzeria Dennis since 1975) because we figured we might as well get an Italian style pizza while in Europe. We both ate ourselves silly, mostly because we hate wasting food (not because our food was delicious). We still have to try Finnish Chinese food and I hope you wish us luck because I have my doubts.

Then we walked back to the hotel, where my wife started looking for places to go so we can leave Turku sooner than originally planned. Funnily, we’re here because she made me change my original plan to spend most of our time in Estonia after some of her tourists from Finland told her Turku was the best place in Finland. Turku is nice and everything but it’s our least favorite city of the European ones we’ve seen so far. My wife disagrees, even as she searches for somewhere else to go instead of staying here. She thinks maybe she liked Naples less because of the stray dog problem. Turku, she says, is nice – just boring.

Don’t get me wrong though, it’s better than walking around Seoul. It’s just not us. Sometimes you feel a connection with a place and sometimes you don’t I guess.

Tonight, after we do some vacation planning, we may go out to a cafe for cappuccinos or something. Sitting at a cafe by the river while drinking cappuccino is pretty nice, even if you’re not in your favorite city.

Helsinki day 2

We had gone to bed early but didn’t manage to catch up on sleep – I got about 7 hours and woke up with a pretty stiff back. The mattress in the hotel is just too soft for me.

The result was a fairly early start. I reserved some concert tickets for tomorrow night and I figured we’d pick them up first. So after a bit of walking around we found the convenience store where you’re supposed to pick up tickets (it sounds funny but this is the Finnish TicketMaster so we’re talking about a big company). But my confirmation printout thing didn’t work and I couldn’t get my tickets.

We walked around a few more shops and then headed to Helsinki Cathedral for a free organ recital at noon. I think we walked around and did some window shopping before heading back to the hotel to figure out what to do next. We settled on the Rock Church (I’ll look up the long Finnish name later) – which is a church carved (blasted?) out of a huge rock. It’s pretty cool inside. They have a pianist most days from 10:00 to 2:00 (with several breaks including a long lunch break I’m told) and the occasional concert. We won’t have a chance to see a concert there sadly.

Then we headed back to Cafe Carusel where we would eat dinner and listen to the jazz we thought we were going to hear last night. The performance started half an hour late at 8:30 and went for about 2 hours. Most of that time we were shouting over the music and chatting with a couple of friendly locals.

They said Helsinki was great but also said some things that told me I’d never want to live hear. Apparently we are getting lucky with the beautiful weather – summer isn’t always as nice as it is now. And winter really sucks – people stay home except to go to work. And its dark (as in no sunrise) for a while. And, of course, cold (-25 celsius).

Then back to the hotel, a bit of yoga to loosen up, and now this, and soon bed.

Basin Harbor, Vermont (family travel testimonial)

Not written by me but it comnes from one fo my trusted sources.

Basin Harbor Club & Resort is great! We just dropped off the kids for the evening camp. I’m having a cocktail (waiting for my wife to get ready for dinner) in our cottage overlooking Lake Champlain. Have a choice of lobster at the dock area or lamb, duck, etc. in the main dining room. Yumm either way. It’s a beautiful place and freaking love the kids programs (lots of adult fun for wife and I while still plenty of family time). Would highly recommend.

Tmorrow is Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. The next day Shelburne Museum – acres of outdoor museum. From an old train station to a steam boat to an apothecary to famous Impressionist paintings. Then dinner at the Bearded Frog around the corner.

Vermont Brew Festival in Burlington this weekend too!

Related older posts = Vermont hiking, Grunberg Haus, nature on vacation