Top 10 Highlights of the West Coast (California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah) Part 2

I conclude my West Coast experience here with another 5 highlights from my two week coach trip around California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. These are a selection of places I was not necessarily expecting great things from, but nevertheless enjoyed thoroughly. As with my first set of highlights in Part 1, I would highly recommend visiting these locations if you get the chance!

Sedona – This was a truly thrilling day. As an avid Mumford and Sons fan, listening to their live album ‘Red Rocks’ which was performed in Sedona, I am not afraid to admit that Continue reading

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Allie_Caulfield

German Christmas Markets: Why You Should See Them In 2017 

As we are exactly half-way through the year, it’s time to start thinking about Christmas… right?

The festive season may be long gone but if you’re hoping to make your first Christmas market trip in 2017 then it’s never too early to start searching for good deals and doing some research. I love visiting the markets in Germany and would recommend them to anyone, particularly if, like me, you’ve always loved the idea of the kind of festive holiday you see on traditional Christmas cards.

Growing up in Texas where we were lucky if the temperature even dropped below freezing, let alone received anything close to resembling snow, I used to think that Christmas in New York City was the most magical way to spend the holidays, but then I went to Germany. Don’t get me wrong, New York at Christmas is just how you’d imagine, it’s like something straight out of a film. The city decorates every street corner, the tree in Rockefeller Plaza is mesmerising, and, if you’re lucky, you even get snow to top it all off. Celebrating Christmas in New York City should be added to everyone’s bucket list, but spending the festive season in Germany should definitely be added as well. 
Anthony Quintano

Make sure you visit NYC around the festive season at least once in your life, but for a ‘Christmas card’ experience, head to Germany. (Photographer: Anthony Quintano; Flickr)

  
German Christmas markets have been popping up in the U.S. quite frequently in the past few years, but there’s nothing like experiencing them in Germany itself. The atmosphere is a dreamy mix of warm, cosy drinks and energetic bands of tubas and trombones blasting away. The stalls lining the streets sell anything from Christmas cookies to scarves, hats and gloves, and while many of them seem to sell the same things, you can’t help but scan each and every one. There are what seems to be hundreds of food stands surrounded by upright tables to stand at and sip your mug of GlühweinThe warm, spicy mulled wine is served in a special glass unique to each city which makes a perfect souvenir; and don’t worry if you take it home at the end of the night — with each glass you purchase, a Pfand, or deposit, means you can keep it or just return the glass at the end of the night and get your money back. 
Allie_Caulfield

Have a glass of mulled wine to warm you up as you wander around Nuremberg’s Hauptmarkt. (Photographer: Allie_Caulfield; Flickr)

Christmas markets are a huge thing, but none are as big as the Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg. The market is a huge affair, with thousands of stalls packing the Hauptmarkt (main square) in Nuremberg’s old town. Another important attraction of the Christkindlesmarkt is the Christkind. Every year, hundreds of young women audition to become the Christ child, who opens the market with a prologue. The Christkind, dressed in white robes with long curly, blonde hair, even travels to the U.S. to Philadelphia and Baltimore to open their Christmas markets and meet with children. In Nuremberg, there is even a children’s Christmas night, or Kinderweihnacht, complete with a carousel and a small Ferris wheel.  
 
Even though some of these markets can seem large and intimidating from a distance, inside they are full of a comfortable warmth that makes you want to go back again and again. They’re the perfect place to spend time with friends and family, to meet new people and to celebrate the holidays. After spending the last two winters in Germany and its Christmas markets, I can’t imagine a single Christmas without them.  
Featured image © Allie_Caulfield
 
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Orca Watching in Vancouver

Okay, full disclosure: I don’t really celebrate my birthdays. Or at least, I don’t in the conventional ways. For the past few years I’ve mostly just done my own thing and treated myself to a fun day out. Last year was no exception. I’d been living in Vancouver for a month before my 21st birthday, so I’d already done most of the touristy things: Stanley Park — check. Lynn Canyon — check. So, I asked around to find out what weird and wonderful things I could do to celebrate. I remembered, somewhere in the back of my mind, that someone back home had recommended going ‘whale watching’. At $50 a trip, it wasn’t the cheapest day out, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. A friend happened to be leaving that month, and she was keen to see the orcas too, so we bought the tickets together. Three connecting buses later (and a very stressful ‘follow that bus or I’ll miss the boat’), we finally arrived in Steveston, where the smell of fish and chips and saltwater hung redolent on the air.

Being from England, where the usual rule of thumb is to wear at least three extra layers of clothing just in case, I was well prepared for the chill of the sea. But probably just as well the trip included coffee and tea, poured from the kind of metallic travel jugs that take about three years to cool down. Considering I can barely walk down the street without tripping over some invisible pebble, I didn’t fancy attempting to pour boiling hot coffee into a tiny travel cup in the middle of a rocking, sea-tossed boat. Besides, who wants to stand around making drinks when there are orcas to see?

We struck lucky that day, three whole pods of orcas swam and played in the water around our little boat. The staff on hand were very quick to explain the mechanics of the pod to us, to answer questions, and to point out anything else of interest. We listened intently, holding on with cold-numbed hands to our phones and cameras, poised to capture the exact moment an orca appeared alongside us. At first, we gasped with every hint of a snout and flash of a tail. The orca joked and teased, giving us glimpses that would transfer to blurry photos on cameras that might have resembled an orca if we squinted close enough and used our imaginations. But after a while, they appeared in force, droves of orca dipping and twisting around the boat, splashing around in the foamy trail we left in our wake. By the time we reached waters which were closer to Washington than Vancouver, we could spot them in any given direction.

Even if we hadn’t struck lucky with so many sightings, it was amazing just to be on a boat in the middle of the sea, with the wind in my hair and water stretching across the horizon. Most of us don’t get to experience that every day, and it was wonderful simply to sit back with one of the laminated guides and imagine I might be lucky enough to spot some super-rare creature nobody had ever seen before.

It was probably one of my best ever birthdays, in all honesty. We were given the opportunity to witness something amazing; creatures I’ve only ever seen in unnatural environments such as aquariums, and that in itself was more than worth the ticket price.

Stepping back onto land at the end of the trip was somewhat bittersweet. We were hungry, and the inviting salt and vinegar tang of chips called to us, but so did the lure of the boat, and the distant glimpse of sea lions in the distance. And even though my camera is still full of blurry, not-quite-identifiable pictures of orca tails, the memory of that birthday spent watching the orcas splashing in the wake of the boat is fresh in my mind even now.

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Falling For Iguazu

Spanning the borders of three countries, Iguazu Falls is an outstanding feat of nature on a continent bursting with surreal landscapes and natural wonders. The Iguazu River tumbles over the Parana Plateau in an enormous, crashing cascade a few kilometres from where the two rivers merge. Continue reading

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Tales of a Traveller: the Self-made Desert Island Castaway

Ever dreamed of a simpler life? How about one where every day holds promise of blisteringly blue skies, the sound of gently lapping water, the rustle of palm leaves in the breeze and little else — instead of honking car horns, the drizzle of rain and a cramped commute? I know which I’d rather.

How many of us ever actually do it, though? Pack the bags, sell the possessions and escape…

In 1952, New Zealand-born bushcraft and survival enthusiast, Tom Neale, realised his lifelong dream of living a simpler life, marooning himself on a deserted island in the South Pacific with nothing but a pair of cats, a damaged boat, some books and a few chickens. The island was Suwarrow in the Cook Islands, and in fact it was more of an atoll, uninhabited since the war and 580 miles northwest of the archipelago’s main island of Rarotonga. He was to live on this sliver of sand, on and off, for the next 25 years.

Neale had been something of an oceanic nomad from a young age, spending his twenties and thirties roaming the South Pacific islands and taking up odd jobs along the way. It was when he crossed paths with a writer and traveller named Robert Frisbie on Rarotonga, that his desire to escape to a life of blissful isolation was truly fired up. Frisbie had been briefly stranded on Suwarrow with his family during the war, and his fond account of it captured Neale’s imagination, prompting him to book passage on a ship travelling in close proximity to the island. Continue reading

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