Adventure and Travel
Exploring Switzerland, Italy and France
There has been a lot of volatility in the world in 2017. Europe has not been exempt from these turbulent times but the second half of 2017 being a bit calmer. Largely due to the United States taking over the volatility index due to polarized politics.
This recent bit of calmness in world affairs presented another opportunity to revisit Europe and add in some previously undiscovered destinations. It would be interesting to find out if improvements had been made in the areas that are important to travelers.
First up was the toilet situation. Some improvements in toilet cleanliness have been made but making tourists pay one euro to use a toilet is still a sore point. Overall signage and directions in transportation hubs is still an issue. Much work is needed in this area. The food in recent trips was fabulous and first rate. This trip it was hit and miss. Overall quality was down and prices have seemed to have escalated upwards. One highlight of the food scene was a trip to Il Lago; a Michelin star restaurant in Geneva.
A return to Italy offered up the opportunity to visit Cinque Terre; gorgeous set of five fishing villages. Traveling in the low season meant that the villages were not crowded and very manageable to get around. Contact with other travelers confirmed that there are still issues of theft on-board trains. Good advice is to watch your wallets/purses and luggage whilst en-route.
A few days in Monaco and Cannes was breathtaking but at the same time it quickly showed the great disparity between the 1% and the general populace. Prices for hotels, services and food are excessive compared to other areas. Plan for additional travel expenses in these areas but costs can be managed by taking public transit, buying small grocery items and avoiding items which are over priced such as Coca Cola and Evian in hotels in restaurants.
Costa Rica: Pura Vida
Costa Rica is a country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the southeast. It fronts the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and Ecuador to the south of Cocos Island.
The national motto of Costa Rica is "Pura Vida" which translates to Pure Life. For its residents the quality of life is built upon organic food, low carbon foot print and universal health care. This is the reason why the locals know as Ticos have one of the highest life expectancies in the world.
A good time to visit the country is from November to May; which is termed the dry season. The other time of the year is the rainy season and if you plan your dream vacation in this time period you may experience significant rainfall.
Lured by the travel advertising which showcased gorgeous beaches and lush foliage and a luxury resort we booked our dream vacation.
The first couple of days started out nice with sunny and cloudy periods interspersed with some light showers. Then the rain increased on the third day and by the fourth day it had increased to biblical proportions. Non-stop torrential rain from the tropical depression Nate caused flooding in the resort, downed power lines, electricity interruptions, resort staff shortages, uprooted trees and overflowing rivers.
All of our planned itineraries were cancelled and we were left to contemplate the biblical tale of Noahs Ark in our hotel room. Our dream vacation was washed out and the trip to the airport for our flight home revealed the devastation. Homes were flooded, residents displaced, furniture destroyed, mudslides, downed trees and power lines.
We were thankful to head back to our home town. We learned a few things during our trip which is good travel advice for all:
Italy: The Good, Bad and Ugly!
Italy; a small enigmatic country; encompasses the good, bad and ugly. Let’s go over why or why not to visit Italy. Before we get into the details; I must warn you that you will only get the complete unvarnished truth from me. I don’t sugarcoat it, pander to ones sensibilities or believe in political correctness. Italy Photo Gallery
Italy is a land rich in history, wrapped in an envelope of architecture and food with a religious blessing at the end. This is Italy in a nutshell. A visit to Italy is a wonderful experience for those who choose to embrace it.
Most people go to Italy for the food and wine first. This was not a disappointment. Charcuterie, pizza and gelato are all superb. Fine restaurants in Tuscany will make your taste buds go into overdrive and create lasting memories that will be with you for the rest of your life. There was one thing missing from the whole Italian scene. An absence of fast food restaurants that can blight a city landscape is the one thing that impressed me the most. I also imagine the arteries of many American tourists must go through a withdrawal phase before acclimatizing to Italian fare that used fresh ingredients and cooked with love.
A trip to a local grocery store reveals much about the local lifestyle. A large deli department to greet your arrival and one or two aisles dedicated to wine. What a refreshing idea to be able to buy groceries and wine at the same time. A fun game to do is to search for the cheapest bottle of wine to go with your nightly meal. Our search in the aisles revealed a bottle for 1.49 Euros. It may not have been a fabulous wine but indeed a fun game to play.
Italy is land that goes back before the Common Era and is steeped in history. Architecture examples like the ancient Roman roads, buildings and ruins are prominent. This is accented by the centuries of art and culture on display in the abundant museums. Dig deep in this area and your intellectual side will be rewarded. Some worthwhile tours and day trips are:
Excursions in Italy can be booked through Dark Rome.
Getting around Italy can be difficult but can be much easier if you take advantage of Italy’s high speed train service. It is a wonder of modern engineering and design. High speed trains can whisk you from Rome to Milan in a few hours. The high speed service puts all of the train service in North America to shame. Info and tickets click here.
Hmmm! Every traveler has basic human needs and functions. Yes, we are talking about bathrooms, washrooms, restrooms and toilets. This is really where we see varying levels of facilities. You may encounter a luxurious bathroom in your hotel; featuring fine Italian tile and marble. A shower that allows water to run off your body like it was in a warm jungle rainstorm or a toilet so pristine that your penis or vagina will feel like it has been blessed by the toilet gods.
Everything is downhill from here. I have never see such a diverse range of toilet facilities in my life of travels in Asia, Europe and North America. For some strange reason the Italians have a lack of standards for these facilities. You will definitely encounter toilets without a seat, deplorable sanitation and even holes in the floor used as a toilet. I think the ancient Romans must be turning over in their graves after the small level of progress in toilet facilities.
The other strange thing encountered was the charging for tourists to use their sub-standard toilets. Your travel budget needs to include additional Euro for this. Prices for toilet access are from .50 to 1 Euro. Trip Advisor On Italy toilets
While we are on the topic of toilets; the airplane washroom on the Alitalia was also sub-standard. Boarding the aircraft you were greeted with a strong urine odor throughout the cabin. This was an old aircraft that needed to be sent to the airplane graveyard. The flight home was completely different. Alitalia blessed us with a brand new Airbus A330; which was modern and clean.
The ugly in Italy is pretty ugly indeed. The road system in Italy needs much work and should be modernized. Small country roads are standard and barely fit two automobiles when they pass. The major autostrada consists of major highways that charge tolls and is small in comparison to other countries around the world. The real truth about many Italian drivers is that they have a prominent gene that makes them drive in a mentally unstable and crazy fashion. Driving behaviors like this in other jurisdictions around the world would yield driving infractions, fine and definite incarceration.
Local train service is an experience I will never forget. Graffiti covered railroad cars that are rickety, ancient and dirty. Not a good experience. Our local journey stepped into the bizarre when we were subjected to the travelling musical gypsy show. No way to sugarcoat this; they are just shysters, grifters or con artists. Call them what you like; but they certainly don’t work for a living. They intimidate you into giving them money or you get your ears assaulted.
The travelling musical gypsies are just one example of local con artists. You will be subjected to a large array of different types at train stations; such as fake tourist information staff, dishonest cab drivers; hustlers selling local tours and fake cab drivers. This is the lighter side, it progresses from this to all around scum bags. It doesn’t seem like the city, tourist or police authorities have any desire to clean any of this up. Keeping a hand on your wallet is always a good idea when travelling in major city centers.
Winter Escape to Jamaica
The 2015 winter has been harsh for many in in the northern US and Canada. For the the first time in my life I caved in to join the rest of the sun seekers in the Caribbean to escape our dreary winter. Exiting from the airport a lush tropical paradise awaited. Or so we thought. Jamaica is a country of stark contrast.
Abject poverty overwhelms; yet the happiness of the people is all encompassing. This is in stark contrast to the wealthy gated communities disguised as resorts. Many sun worshippers never leave the confines of the resort and see the real Jamaica. This portrays a negative image of the North American traveler. Jamaica has a lot to offer from cultural values, photographic scenery and a population that thrives on happiness. We can learn a lot from their positive outlook on life.
To get to Jamaica is simple. Open your internet browser and select a travel vacation site. Pull out your credit card and click OK. First step is done. Now get on the plane and embrace happiness. To get you started on the happiness buzz have a look at the Jamaica Gallery.
The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone
The American mid-west is fascinating with its iconic scenery and cliche characters. It is an area that draws me back again and again. The cast of characters included everything from cowboys to the rich and eccentric in Jackson Hole. Whether your subject is landscapes, wildlife or people it is a photo rich area that keeps a photographer engaged.
This time around it was a visit to another part of the American West. The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone park. If you are looking for an area of the US where you can capture the iconic images that America was built upon then you should definitely consider a trip here. The wildlife is plentiful, scenery is intense and and good all around hospitality.
The only negative on the trip was a chef that should be fired for inadequate food preparation skills in a small town in Wyoming.
This was my first trip down to the Caribbean. I had high expectations for the region due to all the buzz from family, friends and media sources. But I have to call it like I see it. Both Grand Cayman and Cozumel are glorified shitholes full of con artists and tacky tourist shops. The only saving grace to these places are the nice beaches.
If you want a fun time then go to Key West. This town is lively, fun, full of historic attractions, restaurants, shopping and beaches. It is devoid of slimy con artists and very safe to walk around. Highly recommended. Gallery
This was my first trip to the state of Colorado. Part of the allure was that it was rich in history from the old gold mining days and western lawlessness. You have to leave the big cities in Colorado behind you to experience what the old mid-west was like. The state of Colorado has many things to entice the adventure traveler; from ghost towns to gorgeous national parks. Gallery
The Old West
Nothing is more symbolic than the Old West as portrayed in many Hollywood western movies. Many of these feature films were shot in Nevada, Utah and Arizona. The most recognizable is Monument Valley where some of the John Wayne movies were filmed. It is an area that is iconic and rich in photographic subjects. Maybe that is the reason the area has drawn me back for repeat visits. Gallery
In American speak, California is the elongated state that borders the Pacific Ocean. To the rest of us, it is the state that will be the first to fall into the Pacific Ocean when the big quake hits. Don't let your fears of an earthquake stop you going to the state. This state has everything for a packed vacation; wineries, movie sets, national parks and wine. Lots and lots of wine.
Just like in the movie Sideways; it is a fascinating place to overcome your divorce through alcohol or when you have that mid-life crisis. This is a state you have to visit just once, OK maybe twice. Gallery
The territory was split from the Hudson's Bay Company's North-Western Territory in 1898. Receiving royal assent on March 27, 2002, the federal government modernized the Yukon Act to confirm "Yukon", rather than "Yukon Territory", as the current usage standard. The official motto of the Yukon is "Larger then Life". My trip up to the Yukon came about as a result of a golden handshake or exit package from my employment. I was thinking of a fishing trip at the time, I just detoured northwards a bit. It is a fascinating place but definitely not for the casual tourist as exploration risks are real and the nearest trauma center is hundreds of miles away. Something to keep in mind if you are planning your trip there. If you don't go, you can always look at the gallery.
British Columbia is unique in that you have the mainland and the island. You are a resident of one or the other. Calling Vancouver Island an island is a misnomer as it is bigger than a lot of countries. Here you get everything from a metropolis to Unesco world heritage sites. Put this location on your bucket list or just get up and go. Gallery
In this gallery there are selected images taken over a 25 year period in both analogue and digital camera technology. The images were taken on 5 different trips to the western canadian provinces of Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. The analogue images were converted into digital format with a Nikon scanner. In the conversion process it was evident that only the Kodak Ektar Professional films survived the test of time. Gallery
This country should be on your bucket list and if not, put it on. I originally made this trip to New Zealand as a reward to myself for completing all of my divorce headaches. Hell, you don't have to divorce to use it as an excuse to go, just call your travel agent.
This was a fascinating trip to both the North and South islands where I learned to drive on the wrong side of the road and speak Kiwi. Yes, there are a lot of sheep which is offset by the barrels of wine that they produce. This country has it all; wine, scenery, volcanoes, heritage sites, sheep and beautiful women. As for sailboats the Kiwi's believe in the motto "Go big or go home!" Gallery
My first encounter with the UK started at the airport where the customs agent said to me "Welcome Home". I was stunned as even though I was born there I never considered it to be home, until then. Even though I was raised by British parents with a stiff upper lip, I found the culture to be strange. It was more like a feeling a fish has when being out of water.
What a fascinating country rich in culture and history. This must have been the reason to justify three separate trips to the homeland. In the gallery we have images taken in both analogue and digital formats in and around the city of London. Gallery
India is a vast sub-continent of Asia. It is rich in photographic opportunities. The patterns of color in India are rich and cannot be surpassed elsewhere in the world. From the colorful clothing to the details of the spice markets, India offers it all. Alas, the great sub-continent is not for travelers who view and judge everything from a first world perspective. If the thought on seeing abject poverty and you cannot stomach the risk of becoming very sick; a stay in India is not right from you.
All of the pictures in this gallery were taken with a small point and shoot during my travels to India in 2004 and 2005. This was my first foray into the digital world after experiencing film technology for over 25 years. For more information about India the book by Lonely Plant Guide to India is amongst the best.
Travel sickness is a very real possibility when going to India. It is highly recommended that you consult a travel doctor before leaving. Your travel doctor can provide advice on minimizing the risk of sickness and emergency prescriptions and medical treatment.
China, officially the People's Republic of China, is a sovereign state located in East Asia. It is the world's most populous country, with a population of over 1.35 billion. China is a single-party state governed by the Communist Party, with its seat of government in the capital city of Beijing. It exercises jurisdiction over 22 provinces, five autonomous regions, four direct-controlled municipalities (Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Chongqing), and two mostly self-governing special administrative regions (Hong Kong and Macau).
Above is the Wikipedia view of China, for me it was quite different. Both times I traveled to China were for business trips interspersed with some vacation days. My view is that China is by far a capitalist country with a strong un-elected central government. Some things in this country may be an affront to your western values but we may be viewed the same way. The majority of the pictures in the gallery were shot with an entry level digital camera which ushered in my transition towards digital technology. Gallery