Posted by: Michelle | April 19, 2010

Poll: Your ideal trip!

Ok, it might not be very realistic, but just imagine for a moment you could travel anywhere in the world, and you don’t have to worry about money, transportation,  food, hotel, etc. What’s your dream vacation?


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Posted by: Michelle | April 17, 2010

Great Blue Hole of Belize

I just discovered this great list of mystifying or unique places called “Ten Strange Places.” I’m surprised I haven’t heard of many of them, consider some of their incredible characteristics. The Great Blue Hole of Belize is an underwater sinkhole near the center of Lighthouse Reef off the coast of Belize. Originally a limestone cave system during the last glacial period, the cave roofs have since collapsed, leaving behind a 480-foot deep, dark blue circle full of unique stalactites and limestone formations. Divers are drawn to the Great Blue Hole to explore the vast undersea structure. I’ve only snorkeled before, but I think diving would be a must in the Great Blue Hole to get the full experience. A journey throughout the Great Blue Hole includes sights of not only the cave remnants, but also plenty of life, including coral and many kinds of fish.

Posted by: Michelle | April 16, 2010

On the Rail

NOTE: For a little change of pace, I’m writing about a couple journeys I already took, instead of ones I hope to take. This post has been entered into the Grantourismo-HomeAway travel writing competition, sponsored by HomeAway Holiday Rentals.

15 hours. No air conditioning. HUMID. This was not a train ride in America, nor Australia, where I had just finished a four-month study abroad program. My friend Katelyn and I had decided to extend our journey another couple weeks to backpack through Thailand. We spent one night in Bangkok and were now on an overnight train to the northwestern city of Chiang Mai.

Usually a long, hot train ride would put me in a bad mood, but this time I was just excited. After years of carefully planned family vacations and organized group trips, this was my first time traveling with just my backpack, no hotel reservations, no itineraries, no plans. Katelyn and I got advice on where to go, stay, eat and shop from fellow travelers and locals we met along the way, and we ended up with the most incredible two weeks of our lives.

This train ride was the beginning of it all, and I felt my heart beating faster as I watched the scenery fly by us. Some of the fields and lakes looked familiar and could easily have been scenes from my native Connecticut; but then we would pass a village and I knew I was far from home. These small settlements had a variety of rudimentary dwellings but always one exceptionally ornate building – a wat, or temple. My eyes were glued to the window as I eagerly took in every detail of the journey.

Beautiful sunset out the window of the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

The point of traveling is getting to a destination, but we often underestimate the journey, how we get there. My transportation throughout Thailand included planes, trains, vans, buses, motorbikes, cabs, tuk tuks, songthaews, elephants, ferries, and longboats, to name a few. Each of those journeys, whether they lasted a few hours or a few minutes, contributed to my experience as a whole.

Katelyn and I were so proud of ourselves when we successfully navigated the public bus system in Bangkok to get to the train station. Then we had a lesson in Thai culture when an alarm sounded in the train station and all of the hundreds of people waiting for trains stood to sing the national anthem. I have come to realize that “getting there” is half the fun of traveling, and if you pay attention you can get more out of the journey than the sightseeing.

Me on the city bus in Bangkok

Posted by: Michelle | April 15, 2010

Volcano in Iceland

Even though I’ve never actually seen all these places I’m posting about, just writing and learning about them makes me feel connected to them. So when I heard about the volcanic eruption in Iceland today (see The New York Times article here), just over a month after I wrote about Iceland’s precarious position on top of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, I paid more attention to the story than I usually would.

The following video shows the actual eruption happening live. As adventurous as I am, I’m usually not the type of person who seeks out potentially fatal natural disasters, but it would have been amazing to watch this:

Posted by: Michelle | April 14, 2010

Nostalgia

All of this writing about traveling makes me nostalgic for the trip that originally gave me the travel bug, my trip to Israel almost two years ago. There was a lot packed into the ten-day journey, organized by Birthright Israel, and though I was exhausted by the end of it, I was also inspired to see more. This digital story I made for a class in Fall 2008 explains why the trip meant so much to me.

Posted by: Michelle | April 12, 2010

Patagonia (the place)

Growing up in New England, I was more familiar with Patagonia the outdoor clothing company, not Patagonia the southernmost part of South America located in Argentina and Chile. To me, the name Patagonia means winter and cold, but the name is actually derived from the word “patagón,” meaning “big feet,” which Magellan used to describe the “giant” natives in that region. They averaged 5′ 11″, though that constituted giant status compared to the Spaniards who averaged 5′ 1″ in Magellan’s time.

Patagonia has incredible diversity, from the varying climates, flora and fauna of its mountains, lakes, plains and beaches, so I certainly can’t fit all of it in one post. One part that looks particularly awesome is the Valdes Peninsula, on the Atlantic coast of southern Argentina. The peninsula is essentially a wildlife sanctuary, with unique opportunities to see whales, penguins, dark dolphins, elephant seals and sea lions up close and personal. In Puerto Pirámides, a seaside village on the peninsula, you can relax on the beach while admiring whales that come right up to the shore! There is also a sea-lion colony nearby where you can watch the adorable animals playing from natural observation decks in the cliffs above the beach.

The animals I’m most interested in seeing are the penguins. Every year 500,000 adults come ashore in the Valdes Peninsula village of Punta Tombo to breed and hatch their eggs, so it’s impossible to miss them! I picture it like March of the Penguins, but hopefully just a bit warmer. They’re so cute though (below), I think I would withstand some rough weather for a good glimpse.

Posted by: Michelle | April 12, 2010

Beyond the Beaches in Bali

I recently started reading a travel blog called Nomadic Matt. He just wrote a post about Bali, and how he was surprised that so many people visited only the beach and nothing else. I have to admit that if I were going to Bali, my first instinct would be to go straight to the beaches. Nomadic Matt highlights the rice terraces as the must-see alternative to the alluring turquoise ocean, and they do look incredible in his photos, but I decided to do a little research and find a different hidden gem on this Indonesian island. My selection: an active volcano.

Rice terraces are surely more safe than an active volcano, like Mount Batur (top picture), but they are both beautiful, and Mount Batur is more exciting! It has erupted more than 20 times since 1800, and the most recent major eruptions were in 1964, 1974 and 1994. Since it seems to be overdue for another one, I might wait a couple years before making this journey. The breathtaking scenery seems worth the wait, though, especially to see a sunrise over the mountain (bottom picture).

Posted by: Michelle | April 8, 2010

Serenity in Sri Lanka

Maybe it’s the senioritis or the unseasonally warm weather, but all I want to do recently is lie on a beach. Since I’m stuck in Boston for the time being anyway, might as well dream big: Sri Lanka.

Ranked number one on The New York Times’ “The 31 Places to Go in 2010” list, Sri Lanka only recently became an ideal vacation spot. Civil war and government instability that afflicted the small island for years finally subsided last May, leaving behind a peaceful paradise about 20 miles off the southern coast of India where temperatures stay in the 80s all year long.

Sri Lanka has everything I would want for a relaxing vacation. Other than incredible beaches, which I’ll get to in a minute, hill country in the center of the island offers rolling mountains, cascading waterfalls and quant hilltop villages. UNESCO World Heritage site Kandy is a cultural mecca nestled in the hills, known for its annual summer festival called the Esala Perahera, which celebrates the Buddha’s tooth relic.


Hill Country

Esala Perahera

After an exciting journey through the mountains, I know I would be ready for some quality beach time. The coast of Sri Lanka includes over 830 miles of pristine white beaches. Even with two monsoon seasons, Sri Lanka has at least one coast with pure sunshine at every part of the year. Nilaveli Beach looks like an ideal destination. With miles of picture-perfect soft sand and clear water, Nilaveli is also close to Coral Island, the best snorkeling spot in Sri Lanka with colorful cabbage coral and tropical fish.

Nilaveli Beach

Posted by: Michelle | March 30, 2010

To the Safari!

I know there is much more to Africa than wilderness and wildlife, and I want to see all of it someday, but I’m starting with the stereotypical African adventure – the safari. I discovered that “safari” means “journey” in Kiswahili, so I absolutely had to write a post about it. There are many popular safari destinations throughout Africa, but I decided on Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park because of its diverse offerings.

The park includes a whopping 5,700 square miles of grassland plains, savannah, riverine forest and woodlands. What I’m really excited about though is the animals! Seeing wild animals in a zoo is not the same as seeing them out in the wild. Serengeti is famous for the Great Migration, when over 2 million animals (1.5 million wildebeests and a few hundred thousand zebras and gazelles) trek across the entire Serengeti twice a year. To be honest, I’m not even positive what a wildebeest is, but I think it would be pretty cool seeing over a million of them on this incredible journey!

Posted by: Michelle | March 23, 2010

Adventure in the Grand Canyon

Sometimes I get so caught up on traveling internationally, I forget about all the gems right here in the U.S. Aside from the East Coast, I have only spent time in California and Florida. From national parks to theme parks, I know there is a lot in between that I am missing out on. One place I have been curious to travel to for a while is the Grand Canyon.

At 277 miles long, I know I won’t be able to see the whole thing, but I still want the real “canyon experience.” I used to love camping, and I think that could be a fun way to really examine the terrain. Hopefully I can find a campsite with a view of the sunrise over the canyon, which I hear is incredible! Check out this video taken right at the moment of the sun emerging.

After a relaxing morning of watching the sky, I would love to get the adrenaline pumping and try whitewater rafting again. After the exhilarating and terrifying adventure of whitewater rafting in the Tully River in Queensland, Australia, I couldn’t wait to do it again, and what better place than the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park!

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