Destiny Part One: Escaping Athens

“Detached, distant, and depressed… holding my breath waiting for something to happen. I think my story is similar to many; you get divorced or out of a bad relationship and it takes some time to get the bad taste out of your mouth and get back on track with your life. I was so bored and unhappy! That’s it I am running away from home. Well, not really but did pack my Swiss army luggage, grabbed my camera and booked a ticket to Greece.”

Escaping Athens:
It was about 6 years ago over the Christmas season that my friends and family decided I was having a  breakdown of sorts. I can understand why, it was shortly after I broke up with my boyfriend of ten years that I announced to my co-workers, friends and family, that on Christmas Eve (which was in three weeks) I was going to Greece with my new boyfriend Antonio! I tried not to let their concerns wear away at my excitement. Who is Antonio and where did you meet him? Over Christmas-who goes on vacation on Christmas? Is he crazy? Are you crazy? As I assured them of my sanity and his, I realized it was crazy but also exciting and scary- at the same time.
“Antonio is an amazing travel photographer; he is totally normal and really nice!” I assured them. The reality was we were barely even dating, after a few dates he had impulsively invited me to tag along on his trip. I hesitated-I didn’t even know if I liked him. I had not even mentioned him to anyone except my best friend Tracy.

The plan was to meet in Santorini; the most romantic island in the world for a week and then spend the second week and New Year’s Eve in Athens. It sounded too amazing to pass up. So I did it-I booked the ticket! It seemed so romantic- spending the holidays with a handsome Italian photographer!

A trip to the Emergency Room:

The weeks went by as the holidays approached. Although it was busy at work, it was so hard to focus! There was so much to do for the trip. I was counting down the days; In just two days on Christmas Eve, I was leaving. Sure there was a nagging thought that things could go horribly wrong- spending two entire weeks with a total stranger, but I managed to block out these negative thoughts and focus on travel plans. Anyway, I was fascinated by Antonio, he had been to over 30 countries and he had a lot of great deal of exciting stories about travels to exotic locations. His photos were amazing and just getting into photography made that especially appealing.

I had not actually seen him since we booked the trip but we texted daily to discuss logistics and details; how to get to into the city by bus, changing money, what to pack, what to do! It was so exciting. He was leaving one day earlier than me on the 23rd because to get the same flight, booked three weeks out was too expensive.  I tried not to worry about traveling alone to an island to meet him. But then during work on the 22nd,  I received a series of strange text messages that sent me reeling into a panicked state.

“I am in the emergency room”; “I am having a heart attack”. Followed by photos…one with his arm hooked up to an IV and the second a partial shot of him in a hospital bed.

I ran into my friend Nicole’s office. I’m going  to Greece alone! Tony’s in the hospital! I think he had a heart attack. It seemed so unbelievable as I said it out loud!

“Isn’t he like 37”,  Nicole asked in disbelief?

The random messages from him continued throughout the day without any real explanation of what was going on. I followed Nicole around all day projecting worst case scenarios. A nagging suspicion kept popping up –was he really was in the hospital or did he make all this up? It was all too much to deal with. After work I spend the evening on the phone with first my Mother and then Tracy. Panic finally drove me to confess the truth of how I actually met him; I don’t even know him that well! He emailed me from an online RSVP for a photography event. I have only gone out with him a few times; maybe he’s  a crazy artist. What if he isn’t even going and I am going to Greece by myself?

Finally late in the evening, Tony texted me to say he was on the “L” headed home. That’s it, no explanation, everything was fine. What about the heart attack I asked? Why didn’t you call me?

Still worried, I told him I’d drive him to the airport in the morning but he said he was fine. I imagined me sitting on a beach in Santorini alone and abandoned. But the next morning he texted me and reported he was getting on the plane and to text when I landed in Greece. Everything’s fine I announced to everyone, false alarm-he’s ok…  I ignored the concerned looks of my friends and family and told myself over and over -this would be an adventure…one way or another.

Next: My romantic night in Santorini turns into a lonely night in the Athens airport.

Girl’s Guide to Packing for your India Vacation!

“I just booked the trip of a lifetime,  a whirlwind tour of India; Delhi, Jaipur, Agra and Varanasi. After finalizing the travel plans, I realized there were some really important details to work out-like what to wear.”

Shopping In India

Let’s go Sari Shopping!

My friend and I booked the trip of a lifetime a guided tour to Delhi, Jaipur and Agra, with an independent side trip to Varanasi. After finalizing all the travel plans, I realized there are some details we really needed to think about like what to wear and pack. I read through a variety of blogs and travel sites detailing different opinions on what women should wear, some advice more conservative than others. I decided to go more middle of the road and once in India found I had clearly made the right choices! Here are some tips on what to pack for your first trip to India.

Fun Day Sari Shopping!

Fun Day Sari Shopping!

The main question most women have is what is appropriate wear in India? India is a very conservative country, dressing provocatively or too revealing is frowned upon. Rural areas and smaller cities seemed to be more conservative than bigger cities like Delhi and Jaipur. For clothes, I highly suggest to err on the side of caution.

A good rule is to make sure your knees and shoulders are covered and don’t wear anything too tight. Especially if you are visiting rural areas or smaller cities- dress conservatively. I am embarrassed to admit I was surprised that almost all women were wearing a salwar kameez or a sari, and very few were wearing western-style clothes.

Colorful Saris in Varanasi

Colorful Saris in Varanasi

The salwar is a loose pajama type pants and the kameez is the tunic top, while the Sari is like an Indian dress that you have to wrap. Both styles of clothing are so beautiful and come in a variety of bright colors and styles. I wish I could wear these colorful outfits every day! Even though we were dressed conservatively it was still obvious that we were tourists. We even had a few different men politely ask if they could take photos with us.

Most likely a good part of your day will be spent visiting tourist spots so bring some casual pants or outfits. A lot of women tourists wear light-weight linen-type loose pants. It is not appropriate for women to wear yoga pants or leggings without a long top or tunic over it. Wearing just leggings would look like you are wearing underclothing and also they would be too tight. I love the new harem-style pants, currently out that are tight at the bottom and loose everywhere else. These are appropriate and comfortable to wear during the day. One of the most versatile items I packed was a lightweight pair of hiking pants from Columbia. They dried fast, were super comfortable and didn’t wrinkle in my luggage. One exception would be if you were staying at a yoga retreat you could get away with yoga outfits. I did not see any women wearing shorts either, I didn’t see any men wearing shorts either.

Another question is what to wear at the hotel pool. The pool was pretty empty where we were staying but I think a one piece bathing suit is a reasonable garment to wear. I do want to visit Goa and other beaches in India on my next trip so I will have to research this further.

Super Cute Girl at the Taj Majal!

Super Cute Girl at the Taj Majal!

Luckily long skirts and maxi dresses are in this year! I ended up wearing both for the majority of the tour. These can be dressed up for nighttime or down for casual touring during the day. Because it is suggested that you cover up your shoulders, I do not suggest maxi dresses that have skinny straps or that are strapless. A sweater or cover-up sounds like a practical solution except that it is very hot in India. The temperatures range anywhere from 90’s to 105 during the tourist season. For the most part I wore short sleeve tops but I did bring a couple of chunky strap tank tops, more like sleeveless tops and wore them only twice. You definitely do not need a sweater during the hotter months. It was 100 degrees and sunny every day we were there in September. Instead of a sweater, a better solution is a light weight gauzy cover-up.

Village Outside of Jaipur

Village Outside of Jaipur

One fashion mistake I made was bringing a black skirt that had two long slits up the side. By day 5 I was starting to wonder if anyone cares or even notices what I am wearing, so I wore my H & M skirt with the slits on a detour to a small village outside of Jaipur, a woman pointed out the slits and motioned with her hand that they should be sewn together. It was more in a teasing tone as opposed to judgmental but still, I made sure to dress appropriately for the rest of the trip after the public shaming.

Don’t forget to pack a light-weight but versatile scarf to cover your shoulders if you wearing a tank top or if you are visiting a temple or a mosque. You probably will not need to cover your head but the scarf will come in handy if you are taking a rickshaw or walking around a lot as it can get quite dusty and hot. Shoes –everyone wears flip flops or sandals. Even at night unless you are going to a club dressy sandals or even casual ones were appropriate with dresses.

A Visit to the Taj Majal

A Visit to the Taj Majal

A few key factors to consider are temperature, culture, length of vacation and itinerary when packing for your trip. My friends from India suggested buying clothing when we got there, but before you rely on shopping abroad, I would review your itinerary to make sure you have time to do this. We arrived in Delhi late afternoon and after checking into the hotel and eating dinner, it was pretty late to venture out alone to purchase clothes.
Overall, I was happy that I packed a mix or comfortable but stylish clothes; we didn’t have time to shop until about day 4, which is when we did get a chance to buy some scarves and even a Sari. With some careful planning and packing your trip to India should be as amazing as ours!

Packed and Ready to Go!

Packed and Ready to Go!

How to Survive a Night in an Ice Hotel!


The city of Kemi is located just south of the Arctic Circle in Northern Finland, because of its position near the Arctic Circle nights are longer than average during the winter months. In addition, temperatures plunge anywhere from 0 to 16 degrees in February. During the weeks leading up to my trip I was asked by friends and family if I was crazy. Finland is freezing! Yes it is but where else can you go to visit the LumiLinna SnowCastle, visit a reindeer farm, snowmobile on a frozen sea, and go Dogsledding?


The Kemi LumiLinna SnowCastle in Finland is a real hotel and castle made entirely from ice and snow. Each year weeks of preparation go into building the castle from the ground up using blocks of ice and snow made from the nearby Gulf of Bothnia. The Snow Castle grounds include a 21 room SnowHotel, a SnowRestaurant, a SnowChapel and an IceBar. The grounds of the castle sit on the icy coast of the Gulf of Bothnia.  IMG_1006

Construction of the SnowCastle begins yearly in December and continues for about a 6 week period culminating in its grand opening event that takes place in the end of January.  For the 2012 SnowCastle,  approximately 21000 m3 of snow was used in construction, which is roughly the amount of 2100 truck-loads. The SnowCastle area will be 5000 m2, which is the equivalent size of about one-and-a half football fields.  Building the castle is a huge feat for the some 60 builders of this working hotel and restaurant.

The walls and entire structure of the castle and the grounds are constructed with piped snow, blown into various types of molds with a high-powered snow blower. Once the snow has hardened the molds can be removed leaving a very sturdy structure made entirely of snow.  All of the snow, ice and water come from the nearby Gulf of Bothnia. When the season is over at April’s end, the structure is completely demolished and pushed back by tractors into the Gulf, from where it came from.


Each year the theme of the SnowCastle changes: some of the previous themes were Fire; 2007, the Sea; 2008, Travel, 2009 and on the 15th anniversary, the theme was National Romanticism. The Snowcastle’s theme for 2103 was Fantasy. Images of storybook tales were carefully engraved in the snowy walls and many rooms contained frozen characters sculpted entirely of ice. There was even an Angry Birds room. Spending the night in the castle is an unreal experience especially at nighttime when the lights are shining on the glistening ice ans snow.

Dinner at the Snow Restaurant

We checked in at the Snow Castle at around 5pm, this gave us plenty of time to explore the castle before our dinner, which was scheduled at 7:30 that night.  The hotel has a heated lounge with lockers where guests can store their luggage, purses and cameras. Aside from the lockers, the rustic-looking lounge is a fully-equipped and quite cozy with couches, tables, TVs, a little snack shop and a souvenir shop. The bathrooms are located outside the lounge in a heated facility.  After storing our stuff, we bundled up and excitedly ran out to check out the snow castle grounds. First stop was the SnowChapel, the room was dimly lit with green and white lighting casting a peaceful glow over the little chapel. People can actually get married here and then spend their honeymoon night in the honeymoon sweet equipped with a king size ice- bed.

IMG_1216After we took some photos of us praying in the chapel and checking out the castle we were notified that our dinner was ready early. We headed over to the Snow Restaurant, there are two separate seating areas both filled with tables made entirely of slabs of ice. The chairs are tree stumps covered in reindeer fur.

a4 At this point we were hungry and getting a little cold so we sat down at our reserved table. The meal consisted of  three-courses with a welcome drink served in a cup made from ice.  The food is served in tin foil on wooden plates so that the heat doesn’t melt the tables. We all chose the hot Lingonberry juice to start to warm us up rather than the cold Finlandia vodka and cranberry drink in an ice cup.

We each had different options that had to be ordered well in advance. I had the Castle´s Vegetarian Menu; which consisted of Cream of vegetable soup, a Vegetable bake made from broccoli, peppers and potatoes with a lemon sauce and for dessert a warm blueberry pie served with vanilla custard. My Friends had the Feast a’la Snowcastle; cold smoked salmon soup, fried fillet of chicken served with rice, onion and pepper with a smoked reindeer-cheese sauce. Then for dessert warm apple pie with vanilla custard. The food was delicious and hot but we actually ate quickly as the cold was starting to set in just sitting at the table. Luckily the service was good and the food came out fast!

What to do for the Night in an Ice Hotel

After dinner in the restaurant, there are a number of fun things to do to occupy your time. There is the Icebar where even the menus and cups are made from ice. Some of the drinks that are typical of Finland are Finlandia Vodka, or Cloudberry Liquor, but because it was so cold we opted for a Hot Chocolate. ???????????????????????????????

Even dressed in complete Arctic wear staying warm is an issue. The temperature in the castle is a steady 23 degrees regardless of the outside temperature. We could not sit in the bar area very long and drink.  We kept busy taking photos of each other and the bar. Afterwards we headed over to the room with the Ice Slide and took turns making silly videos of us going down it. This served the dual purpose of having fun while keeping warm.

After making a few silly videos we headed outside to slide down the sledding hill, by now it was dark outside. Sledding down the hill was fun but we decided to warm up in the lounge before turning in for the night. We found a comfy couch to sit on and we each got a hot chocolate spiked with Rum. The rum did actually help warm us up!  The cheerful hotel clerk informed us that a presentation on how to use the sleeping bags would be starting soon. Probably not a good idea to skip this informational piece!

How to Survive the Night in the LumiLinna SnowCastle

A couple of key pieces of information we made careful mental notes of; each bed in the castle is covered in animal fur that you sleep on top of. Each guest gets a survival grade sleeping bag with a warm insert both pieces need to be zipped up to keep the warmth in.


First put the inner sleeping bag inside the heavier one. Unzip both of them partially so you can get in but easily zip it up when you are inside. After getting the bags organized-here is the fun part! You need to take off your outerwear and clothing; basically stripping down to your baselayers. According to the presenter this is absolutely necessary and the sleeping bags will not work as well if you leave your outerwear or too many layers on.  Once you take everything off you need to put your clothing between the animal fur and the sleeping bag. The point of this is so your clothes do not freeze, or at least stay somewhat unfrozen for when you have to get dressed in the morning. The boots just stay out and there is no way of getting around sticking your feet into a frozen boot in the morning.

The demonstration looked easy enough and off we were to bed, by now it was about 11pm and we were tired from our dogsledding excursion earlier in the day. One word of warning! Go to the bathroom before turning in for the night! The bathroom is outside in an adjacent heated building but it is still very cold getting in and out of your clothes and bag. Also the lights are dimmed in the hotel at night, my friend had to go to the bathroom and none of us would go with her. So it was a little scary although totally safe walking around in the dark to go to the bathroom. I had to go early in the morning and decided to just wait till breakfast.

IMG_1354 Once inside the first bag we all felt pretty good about the process but zippering up both bags and having them lined up correctly proved a little difficult once the cold started setting in. Once we were all securely zipped up it was quite warm. I had to sleep with the bag over my face though as there is no other protection for your head and face.  A hat definitely is not enough to keep the cold at bay.

We actually slept until the hotel staff woke us up in the morning-we survived no frostbite or frozen body parts! The breakfast was laid out in the lounge by the time we woke up around 7:30am. Our night in the SnowCastle was an unforgettable experience. I don’t particularly like cold weather but with careful planning and the right clothing, the amazing experience certainly outweighed the cold.    IMG_1361

LumiLinna SnowCastle Hours of Operation and Rates

Visitors can visit just the castle during the hours of 10am-7pm daily. An entrance ticket just for the day is 8 Euro / adult, and children from 4 – 11 years 4 Eur. A hotel room can be booked from 27th of January to 6th of April. Price for a double room is 115-175 Euros per person depending on the day of the week. The price includes breakfast in the lounge and the room. I highly suggest using Nordic Visitor though, they arranged an amazing tour that was totally organized which included a dogsledding excursion, overnight in the SnowCastle, a trip on The Sampo Arctic Icebreaker, a visit to a Reindeer farm, snowmobiling for the entire trip including a night ride to the Finnish forest to see the Northern Lights, and various snacks.

How to Get to Kemi, Finland????????????????????????????????

Even booking this trip through Nordic Visitor or a similar company, you will be responsible for booking your own flights. The nearest and only airport is Kemi-Tornio, flights can be arranged through Flybe from Helsinki, Finland. Before booking your package to the SnowCastle check the flights from Helsinki as there are limited travel times.


Dude…Where’s My Luggage?

 New York LaGuardia International Airport

We had just arrived in Paris! Excitedly we hurried off the plane from Palermo discussing what to tackle first; the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame? While waiting at the luggage turnstyle at Charles de Gaulle Airport I started to get nervous when the last bit of luggage was scooped up by a fellow traveler. Watching as the empty belt circled around a second time not carrying my luggage, it finally sunk in…the worst has happened my luggage was missing. Now what?  

Whether you are traveling internationally or domestic, when your luggage doesn’t make it to your final destination it is a huge inconvenience to say the least. But don’t worry – there are some preventative measures you can take to lessen the likelihood of this happening.

With the cost of travel so high, saving money on flights is always a huge plus but make sure to check all the details before booking that cheap flight. Minor inconveniences such as tight layovers between flights, flying on multiple airlines, or flights involving multiple stops may save you money now but your luggage may be affected if something goes wrong. According to the Aviation Consumer Protection Division, the safest option (for your luggage, that is) is to take a nonstop flight; and the riskiest is an interline connection meaning change of aircraft and airlines. It might be worth it to spend a little more money to take a non-stop flight on a reputable airline. One potential scenario is missing your connecting flight, this can mean bad news for your checked luggage especially if the flights are on multiple unrelated airlines; you may not have enough time to recheck your luggage between flights. Your luggage may get lost in transit when taking flights involving two or more stops-the more people handling your luggage, the higher risk you take in it getting delayed or lost.

Pack Smart for Travel

Of course the best guarantee against lost luggage is to carry-on, but this may not always be an option. Sometimes during boarding if the crew notices that the overhead space is getting tight they will ask the remaining boarding passengers to check their baggage. Some smaller planes used for domestic travel will have different baggage limits too forcing you to check it before getting on.

In the event that something delays your luggage it is always wise to take a small carry-on bag for your essentials and valuables. Items such as jewelry, camera equipment, lap top, phone/camera charger, medicines, and itinerary are not only hard to quickly replace but also are not covered by most airlines lost baggage policy. Don’t forget to carry your spare glasses and contacts as these items are hard to locate internationally or the prescriptions are not the same.

Camera chargers and extra batteries can be heavy but they can be hard to replace internationally especially if you have a DSLR camera. Often they need to be ordered online which is not feasible on vacation. Make sure to pack all camera equipment in your carry-on to avoid this potential problem.

Choose your Luggage Wisely

Choose your luggage wisely. I love designer bags and luggage but the only time my luggage was lost in Paris was coincidentally when I checked an expensive and stylish Guess upright. When we arrived in Paris, my bag was the only piece that was missing. Skip the super expensive-looking luggage and go with something a little bit more conservative.

To avoid having someone accidentally pick up your luggage at the baggage claim, make sure it stands out. One suggestion is to put a colorful tag or sticker on it so it is immediately recognizable to avoid this common occurrence.

Make sure to have a baggage labels that are clearly visible and durable enough so they cannot get easily ripped off. Clearly print your name and contact info including your email and phone number. It is a good idea to put a label inside the luggage as well.

Don’t lock your luggage. Airline security may need to inspect your luggage and if it is locked it may get delayed or detained.

Don’t Check in Late for a Flight

I found this rule out the hard way. While traveling to Texas to hike the Guadalupe Mountains, my friends and I had individual carry-on bags but we had to check the one bag with all the camping equipment; tent spikes and propane and all the dangerous items not allowed on a plane. We were running a little late but had more than enough time to board. But we did not look up the airline’s baggage check in deadline. This is often a shorter deadline then you have to make it onto the actual flight. Our luggage had to be put onto the next flight and we had to wait at the airport in Texas for our bag to arrive. We were all happy the luggage finally arrived but it put us behind a few hours. If we would have had a connecting flight it would have been a big mess!

I also found out that in some cases the airline will not assume liability for your bags if you miss this deadline. This is one mistake that can start the trip out on a bad note.

Purchase Travel Insurance

I have never been a proponent of travel insurance until my luggage was permanently lost. Purchasing travel insurance may provide the traveler with additional reimbursement of up to a standard of 1000.00 for lost luggage and an additional 500.00 for delayed luggage expenses. Travel agents and even Travelocity offer travel insurance for a small fee.

Although every airline has a lost baggage policy the key benefit of purchasing travel insurance is it is hassle–free to file a claim. Most airlines take a minimum of three months to cut a check for your lost items. When Easy Jet; a UK based airline, lost my luggage on a trip from Palermo, Sicily to Paris, France (a non-stop flight,) it took over six months, 3 claims forms, and 10 follow-up emails to get a check for my items. For a small airline they actually had a pretty good reimbursement policy and I got paid $1700.00, but I had to provide original receipts and an itemized list of everything in my bag

I highly suggest reviewing the lost luggage policy on the airline you will be taking to find out if you need travel insurance. I was surprised to learn that there are limits to how much an airline will compensate you for lost luggage. For example American Airline and United have a similar lost luggage policy. Maximum allowances for lost luggage on domestic flights (U.S.) is generous with a maximum of $3,300 per lost checked baggage, however, international travel will only be reimbursed up to $9.07 per pound with a maximum of 70 pounds per checked bag. That is hardly compensation at $634.00 per bag. Under the Montreal Convention 1999, International airline carriers in the EEU may be liable for damages up to $1500.00 depending on the exchange rates and airline policy.

Most travelers erroneously believe if their luggage is lost they will be compensated for all its contents. Unfortunately this is not the case. Almost all airlines share a common list of items that are not reimbursable such as jewelry, cameras, laptops, medicines and personal documents. It is also required when filing a claim with the airline that you must submit receipts and a detailed description for every item in your bag. Failure to accurately fill out the paperwork, not providing receipts or failure to file timely may result in a delay of your reimbursement check.

What to do if your Luggage does not Arrive?

You’re waiting at the baggage claim as others pick up their bags and leave you start to get nervous. The worst has happened. Your luggage has not shown up at your final destination. Now what? Go directly to the lost baggage department to file a report. Even if they assure you it will turn up make sure you have all the necessary information and understand it before you leave the airport. They will give you a lost baggage number; you will need this number for everything including tracking and later for filing a claim. Make sure you have your baggage tags claim tickets and boarding passes for outbound and return travel. Ask where your luggage will be sent when it finally arrives. Leave the dates and addresses of the hotels you will be at in case it arrives and they will ship it to your hotel. Clarify what number to call or web address to check to find out the status of your luggage.

Find out if they have a policy on purchases made for essential items. When my luggage was lost, Easy Jet airline reimbursed me up to $300.00 for the first three days my baggage was missing, but it ended up being incorporated into the total amount I could claim.

Most airlines do not consider luggage officially lost for 21 days, at that point you will have to file an official lost baggage claim with the airline.

To check or not to check…that is the question. I advise carry-on whenever possible. If you have to check your bag, always take the above precautions to minimize the inconveniences that will definitely follow when your luggage does not make it to your final destination.

Related articles

Get Ready for a Wild Ride…Icelandic Style

Iceland is a land of extremes filled with hot geothermal springs, ice cut fjords and sub-glacial volcanoes.  What better way to tour Iceland’s natural beauty than by dog sled?

“Waiting at the top of the Mýrdallsjökull glacier was a team of ten anxiously waiting sled dogs. These tough but adorable dogs are purebred Greenlandic Huskies, Yann our dog musher told us.  Despite their tough exteriors these dogs are friendly and playful.  After playing with the dogs for awhile, we climbed onto the long white wooden sled.  Markus the second musher, warned us to sit as far back as possible and leave enough space in the front for them to stop the sled in case of emergency. Though I was not quite sure what that meant, I did as instructed.

My dreams of an energetic start failed to materialize. The dogs were off to a slow start. The lead dogs would trot a little then stop and look back at the mushers, as if to ask, ”What should we do?”

Markus ran up ahead to lead the dogs so they wouldn’t keep stopping and playing with each other.  Yann and Markus skijored (skied) alongside the sled calling out commands to the dogs. “Hike!” they shouted, to get them to run, “Haw!” they yelled to turn left, and “Gee!” to turn right.

 I was enjoying the ride as the dogs were trotting along now at a leisurely pace. Skijoring effortlessly alongside, the mushers were successfully controlling the team. All of the sudden the dogs took off and ran out of control at full speed.  I was surprised at this sudden change in speed. Yann yelled “Whoa! Whoa!” repeatedly, but they didn’t stop.  I was laughing hard but also was kind of scared that they would run off the side of the glacier!   All of the sudden Yann let go of the rope to avoid skiing wildly into our sled.”

Read my full article online at Dog Sledding Adventure Tours Near Reykjavik Iceland.

Karen Long Neck Hill Tribe of Thailand

Located in the northern most area of Thailand is the culturally rich city of Chiang Mai.  The city is a good base for those heading out on a variety of local tours.

With a number of tour options available for visitors it can be hard to decide which ones are worth your time and money. You can bamboo raft down the Mekong River, catch an elephant show, ride an elephant through the mountains,  or tour the area by ox-cart. Cultural tours to visit the hill tribe people are popular as well. There are seven different hill tribes residing in Thailand including the Karen, Lisu, Lahu, Hmong, Akha, and Mien tribes.

On a recent trip to Chiang Mai, I visited an elephant camp, floated down the river on a bamboo raft and also rode an elephant! all of which was great fun, but the most fascinating component of the tour was the visit to the Karen Long-Neck Tribe. I found out that the Karen Padaung Hill Tribe people are political refugees that fled Burma in the late 80’s and 90’s and were granted asylum in a number of areas of Thailand.  Little villages such as the one depicted in the photo above are located in many areas of Thailand, including Chiang Mai. 

The women in the the Karen Paduang tribe are called “Long-Neck” because they wear brass coils around their necks;  a traditional practice among the tribe dating back long before their arrival in Thailand. The coils serve a decorative purpose and give the illusion of elongating the neck, when it in fact it actually pushes the collar bone down.  Children as young as five are fitted for their decorative coils starting out with one or two brass links, each year adding one or two rings.

There  has been a steady decline in recent years among the younger women in Burma  wearing the coils for both health and social reasons.  However, in Thailand there has been a resurgence of this traditional practice,  possibly due to the need to generate tourism dollars for the tribe.

Keep in mind, visiting any of these villages will not give one much insight into the cultural practices of the tribe. The village is  set up mainly as a tourist attraction to help  generate money and work for the tribes people.

The “village” section that is open to the public consists of rows of stalls selling colorful scarves, purses, clothing and traditional looking handicrafts. The women were friendly and wore beautiful traditional clothing.  

I had mixed feelings about visiting the the village but it’s apparent that tourism is their main source of  a much needed income. Because they are political refugees they are not eligible to attain citizenship in Thailand. Therefore, they do not have the same access to medical care, education, or legal employment as do the citizens of Thailand.  The majority of their income is dependant on tourism. A donation box is located at the entrance of the village where you can leave money to help contribute to education and medical necessities for the village.

A visit to the Karen Tribe is usually part of a longer day tour, usually combined with an elephant trek, the elephant show, a ride on an ox-cart or bamboo rafting down the Mekong river.  The tours are a great way to see a lot of Chiang Mai in a short amount of time and also a way to help funnel money to people who need it.  An interesting day to say the least!

Pateis de Belem; an Old World Pastry Shop

Visiting Lisbon? Make sure to pick up some creamy custard tarts at Pateis de Belem. This old-world pastry shop has been serving up creamy custard tarts using their same original recipe since 1837.  Over 10,000 of these delicious tarts are served daily to an endless  line of both visiting and local customers. Even though this place gets packed, the line moves fairly quickly and there is plenty of seating in the rear of the cafe for guests

With so many delicious desserts to choose from  it’s hard to decide what to order. My suggestion-at least 3 creamy tarts and a café con leche. Their seasonal specialties such as such as Belem Marmalade  and Pumpkin Jam make  great souvenirs to take home.  Stop by the pastry viewing area to get an idea how many tarts are pumped out of their kitchen per hour. Literally thousands of  these traditional pastries are made daily on site.

Pateis de Belem is located in Lisbon’s portside district called Belem. The shop is located on Rue de Belem  just 20 minutes by bus or tram  from the city center.  

The store in open late every season to accomodate the hordes of hungry visitors. Winter hours are Monday through Sunday 8:00am to 11:00pm and Summer Monday through Sunday 8:00am to 12:00pm.  Definitely worth the trip!

 Don’t forget to get some to go…

Read the full story about Belem at:

Belem: Magellan was Here!

“Setting out from Marques de Pompal square, bus 727 winds down old cobblestone streets through Lisbon’s historic Santos District. Flying by pale blue, pink and tan stone buildings decorated with colorful ceramic tiles and wrought iron windows until twenty minutes later it reaches the historic district of Belem. Set along the scenic Tagus River, Belem houses a mix of various styles of architecture, some of the most historic and contemporary buildings in Lisbon can be seen alongside each other.
Not sure if Magellan actually frequented the area but Belem is definitely worth checking out!
Pateis de Belem

Pateis de Belem

 First stop should be to the famous Pasteis de Belem. Opened in 1837, this old world pastry shop dishes out a staggering 10,000 creamy custard tarts a day. This little shop is always packed with locals and tourists, but despite the crowds there is enough seating for patrons and the lines move quickly. Order at least two or three of these traditional pastries with a creamy café con leche (espresso with milk). Before you leave visit the kitchen production viewing area to see trays upon trays of the creamy custards being freshly made on site.

Next visit the intricately designed 16th-century building Monasterio de los Jeronimos, here the great discover Vasco da Gama and his crew spent their last night before setting out on his famous voyage to India. The building was actually redesigned from an older monastery but on the same site. The Jeronimos Monastery exemplifies Manueline architecture; a unique style of architecture prevalent in Lisbon during its maritime years. This style of architecture is characterized by intricately carved details coupled with an unusual maritime theme. Portugal was once a great leader in world discovery with many famous explorers setting out from its historic ports.

Monument to the Discoveries and the Belem Tower

Just across the street is the famous Monument to the Discoveries or “Monumento a los Descubrimientos”. This towering monument built in 1960 was designed to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of Prince Henry the Navigator. Towering over the Tagus River this intricately carved structure displays many historical figures important in the history of world discovery, including Vasco da Gama, King Manuel, Magellan and many other Portuguese explorers . Located inside is a multimedia presentation outlining the major highlights of the world discovery period of Lisbon’s history. In the distance, a great view of the modern architecture; the 25th of April Bridge as well as the famous statue of Cristo-Rei or Christ with his outstretched arms welcoming seafarers back home to Lisbon’s ports.

Monument to the Discoveries

Monument to the Discoveries

Further down is the massive limestone Belem Tower. This 16th-century tower was designed by Francisco de Arruda originally as a fortress but over the years it has gone through various stages of usage. It has been used as a political prison, a customs house, and now a tourist destination. This building was made a UNESCO world heritage site because it exemplifies Manueline architecture but with Moorish influences and it represents an important piece of history in terms of the age of world discovery.

Museums in Lisbon Portugal

For such a small area, Belem houses a good number of museums to visit. In particular I enjoyed the Cultural de Belem; one of the biggest cultural centers in Europe. Onsite is the Berardo Museum which showcases an impressive collection of Modern and Contemporary art. The museum typically displays over 225 temporary and permanent exhibits from a number of cutting-edge international and local artists. A visit to this Contemporary Art museum is worth the trip to Belem alone. One of the museums recent exhibitions was from French-born cinematographer and visual artist Pierre Coulibeauf. His installation; “Into the Labyrinth” is a series of photographs and films that sets art into motion. Another visually stunning installation is OSGEMEOS; one name for two Brazilian born twin brothers who have created a fantasy collection of colorful instruments, murals, doors and houses set upon the walls. Children and adults will love this fun colorful interactive installation. The museum has an outdoor cafe offering a panoramic view of both Belem and the Tagus River.

Contemporary Art In Belem

Contemporary Art In Belem

To learn more about the leading role Portugal played in world discovery visit the Maritime Museum, this museum houses an extensive collection of permanent and temporary exhibits. Other notable museums within walking distance are the Museum of Archeology, and the Electric museum.

Restaurants in Lisbon Portugal

After viewing the sites, there are a number of restaurants and cafes to have lunch at before heading back to Lisbon’s city center. For a quick lunch stop at Pão Pão, Queijo Queijo on Rue de Belem for a delicious falafel pita topped with freshly made hummus or try their specialty shawarma plate paired with a pitcher of homemade sangria. At this fast-paced restaurant it’s advised to decide what to order from the menu board posted out in front before stepping into the quickly moving line as both patrons and employees don’t waste time on the indecisive. Although not traditional Portuguese cuisine, Pao Pao attracts a steady stream of locals and tourists with its delicious specialties served at reasonable prices.

After a day of discovery in Belem hop on Tram 15 for a fun ride back to the city center. This little portside neighborhood is guaranteed to charm with its panoramic views, maritime monuments, authentic architecture and contemporary flair.