Identify Your Travel Needs

Snorkel with Stingrays

Keira is about to snorkel with stingrays.

Everybody wants to get the most out their vacation. A great first step to that end is to identify your personal travel needs. Take a look at these four types of vacations and answer these questions: What type of vacation sounds like bliss to you? Which has you most excited? Perhaps more than one of these options has you salivating and itching to go. Take notes and let your travel agent know!

Are you sport-oriented? Does the sound of hiking, whitewater rafting, hang-gliding, skiing, etc. sound like adrenaline boost you’ve been craving? If you said “yes”, then you should focus on having adventure oriented trips. Tame is lame. Get your heart racing by learning a new sport like scuba-diving or abseiling. Go on big thrills like zip-lining, bungee-jumping, and sky-diving. Swim with dolphins, or like me, swim with stingrays! There are all sorts of highly specialized travel companies with a vacation package designed just for you!

Are you fascinated by history? If you like learning and seeing history in person, you will want to find companies that cater to that. You should seek out museums to wander and take hosted tours. Tour guides will be knowledgeable whether you are taking a historic walking tour, an art and culture tour, exploring a wildlife reserve or touring national parks. You will never go wrong if you visit famous landmarks, world culture sites, and world class museums.

Are you hungry for local flavor? The way to your heart is through your stomach. It is time to expand your palate with food and wine tours, cuisine classes, local fairs, famous festivals, and local famers’ markets. Experiencing an up-tempo night life and parties tastes sweet to you. A great resource for you is Food Reference, which has a comprehensive list of food festivals in the US and around the world, broken down by month. It’s good to plan ahead!

Are you interested in relaxation and leisure? Your ideal way to travel is first class all the way with little to no fuss. You are ready to get away and leave behind all stressors. The best vacations for you would include spa retreats and shopping excursions. If you could soak up some sun, that would be even better! Soft sandy beaches with bright colored and clear waters are calling your name. A cruise, where you only had to unpack once, would be just the ticket allowing you to explore the full amenities of the ship. It’s time to unwind, let go, and say “ahh” as you sip a fruity little number.

Famous Roads in the United States

Last Stop: Hollywood Blvd!

If you were to take a tour of all the famous streets in the United States, you would find yourself jetting all over the country. There are plenty of famous streets that tourists flock to in this country, no matter what kind of vacation they are looking for.

St. Charles Ave Streetcar

A Streetcar Named Desire

New Orleans is full of infamous streets. St. Charles Avenue is home to the most famous vintage streetcar around, in addition to jaw dropping mansions. The Garden District also includes Magazine Street. Don’t miss out on Royal, which includes unique antique shops and art galleries. Of course there is also Bourbon Street, the most notorious street in the city for partying.

Lombard Street

Make sure your brakes are good before going down this street!

San Francisco’s Lombard Street is one of the most crooked streets in the world, featuring eight hairpin turns. This street runs from the Presidio to a neighborhood called Cow Hollow, but the crooked section is just one-fourth of a mile long.

ny stock exchange

New York Stock Exchange

New York is also home to numerous familiar streets. The history of Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange dates back to the seventeenth century. You also would not want to miss the fabulous shows on Broadway or the shops and attractions on Fifth and Madison Avenues.

vegas strip

A stunning view of Vegas at night!

A discussion of famous roads in the United States would be incomplete without mentioning Las Vegas Boulevard. The Strip, as it is often called, consists of casino resorts decorated to the hilt to keep the fantasy alive. This is a wonderland for adults who want to gamble and party the night away.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre

Nobody could forget the street that draws those dreamers looking for a cinematic big city adventure. That would be Hollywood Boulevard. Stay at one of the posh Hollywood or Santa Monica Hotels and head on down to the Boulevard to stroll along the 18 block Walk of Fame. Take a picture with your favorite super hero and board a bus to tour the city. A trip down Hollywood Boulevard is incomplete without visiting Grauman’s Chinese Theatre.

Many tourists flock to other attractions on Hollywood Boulevard, including the Guinness Book of World Records Museum and the Hollywood Wax Museum. Hollywood & Highland also offers a tremendous number of shops and souvenirs in addition to a movie theater and a bowling alley.

hollywood

Who doesn’t love the Hollywood Sign?

Those hoping to catch a glimpse of the Hollywood sign will find that this shopping area offers fantastic views that are great for photos. Travelers will have the opportunity to see clothes and props from classic and modern films in the old Max Factor building, now a museum. The Museum of Death is also a big draw.

Make Hollywood Boulevard the last stop on your next trip to southern California. Hollywood is the city of dreams, opportunity and hope for aspiring actors, singers and performers. The sense of excitement is always in the air and tourists want to feel that same glimmer, even if it is only for a few days. When it comes to touring the most famous streets in the United States, Hollywood Boulevard definitely takes the cake.

The 20 Most Popular Tourist Spots in New York City

statue of liberty

Statue of Liberty National Monument

1. Statue of Liberty

A gift from the French, the Statue of Liberty once greeted every immigrant coming into the United States.

Central Park in winter in new york city

Central Park in winter

2. Central Park

Take a walk through the world famous central park, which includes gardens, forest, hills, lakes and a very large lawn.

Times Square or the Crossroads of the World

Times Square or the Crossroads of the World

3. Times Square

Located right in the middle of the city, it is famous for its annual ball drop on New Year’s Eve.

Tribute WTC Visitor Center

Tribute WTC Visitor Center

4. 9/11 Memorial – Tribute WTC Visitor Center

Pay respect to the men and women victimized by one of the worst terrorist attacks ever.

Empire State Building

Empire State Building

5. Empire State

Go to the top of the tallest building in New York at 1,454 feet tall.

Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal

6. Grand Central Terminal

This railway station is the largest in the world with 44 platforms and 67 different tracks.

Rockefeller Center

Atlas at Rockefeller Center

7. Rockefeller Center

This complex build by the Rockefeller family in the 1930’s, includes 19 commercial buildings all in the center of the city.

Ellis Island Immigration Museum

Ellis Island Immigration Museum

8. Ellis Island Immigration Museum

Ellis Island was the entrance to the U.S. that every immigrant had to go through. Visit the museum to learn about the immigration system and the history that surrounds it.

American Museum of Natural History

American Museum of Natural History

9. American Museum of Natural History

Founded in 1869, this museum contains a staggering 32 million specimens, of which only a small selection is showcased at a time.

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Metropolitan Museum of Art

10. Metropolitan Museum of Art

Housing over 2 million pieces of art and spanning every culture and time, there is plenty to see here.

The Museum of Modern Art

The Museum of Modern Art

11. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

View thousands of works of art in the most important museum of modern art in the world.

Tigers at Bronx Zoo

Tigers at Bronx Zoo

12. Bronx Zoo

Visit one of the largest metropolitan zoos in the world, with over 600 different species.

Top of the Rock

View from the Top of the Rock

13. Top of the Rock

Located on the GE building, it is the best place for a panoramic view of the entire city.

New York Public Library

New York Public Library

14. New York Public Library

The second largest library in the country holds almost 53 million different items.

Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Federal Reserve Bank of New York

15. Federal Reserve Bank of New York

One of 12 federal reserves in the U.S., this one is by far the largest.

Chrysler Building

The top of the Chrysler Building

16. Chrysler Building

A beautiful example of Art Deco style architecture, this building was the tallest in the world until the Empire State Building was constructed.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

St. Patrick's Cathedral

17. St. Patrick’s Cathedral

Check out this awe-inspiring Roman Catholic Church built in a Neo-Gothic style.

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine

The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine

18. The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine

The fourth largest church in the world also claims to be the biggest cathedral and angelical church.

Brooklyn Brewery

The Brooklyn Brewery

19. Brooklyn Brewery

Have a beer at one of the largest breweries in the city.

Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum

Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum

20. Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum

Rub elbows with hundreds of celebrities, all made of wax.

Have you been to any of these places? Which is your favorite?

Must See: Ancient Persia’s Persepolis

griffin statue Persepolis

Griffin Statue at Persepolis

Persepolis, the ancient ceremonial capital of the Persia Empire, is located in modern day Iran. I became reacquainted with Persepolis during art history classes at University. I thought Lamassus were extremely cool. Ever since I have wanted to see one of the Lamassu guardians in person.

Persepolis

Overview of Persepolis

Persepolis

Persepolis, from the north-east to the Apadana and Darius' Palace

For those of you who don’t know a Lamassu is a mythical creature with the winged body of a bull and the head of a bearded man. The Lamassus were meant to be intimidating. They flanked gates and doors and you were suppose to be in awe of them. The represented the might of Persia.

lion bull bas relief persia

Bas Relief of Lion and Bull

double head griffin

Double Griffin

gate of all nations

Gate of All Nations - Front

Additionally, in Persepolitan architecture they used wood a lot, especially for columns and doors. Stone columns came about only after the Cedars of Lebanon didn’t meet the required sizes. Not surprising when you think of how many civilizations over the centuries practiced extensive deforestation, using the cedars for everything. The trees were used by the Phoenicians (shipbuilding), the Egyptians (resin in mummification), the Sumerians (mentioned in their epic poem of Gilgamesh), the Hebrews (King Solomon’s temple)… and also the Romans, Greeks, Assyrians and Babylonians.

gate of all nations

Gate of All Nations - Back

Procession on Stairs

Procession on Stairs

lamassu

Lamassu

From these pictures you can get the impression that Persepolis was built on a majestic level. It had to be majestic because the city was meant to be a symbol for the power of the empire and it was located in the middle of mountains. Even so, you’re more likely to know of Susa, Babylon or Ecbatana the other capitals of Persia.  In fact, until Alexander the Great from the Macedonia Empire, captured and plundered Persepolis, the city was unknown to the Greeks.

A sphynx decorating the north wall of the Apadana terrace

A sphynx decorating the north wall of the Apadana terrace

Lamassus at Ancient Persian city of Persepolis

Lamassus at Ancient Persian city of Persepolis

Sites of Note in Pesepolis:

  1. The Great Stairway
  2. The Gate of Nations
  3. The Apadana Palace of Darius
  4. The Hall of a Hundred Columns
  5. The Tripylon Hall
  6. Tachara Palace of Darius
  7. Hadish Palace of Xerxes
  8. Palace of Artaxerxes III
  9. Imperial Treasury
  10. Royal Stables
  11. Chariot House

Ancient Ruins Alert – I Want to See Petra!

Like Machu Picchu, Petra was unknown to the Western world until it was rediscovered in 1812. The word petra means stone in Greek. Apropos is it not for a city literally carved out of the cliff face?

It was built by the Nabataeans sometime around 6 BC as a capital of their state and the center of their caravan trade route. It’s location gave the Nabataeans control over many trade routes that went west to Egypt, north to Syria, to the Red Sea, to the Dead Sea, and the Persian Gulf.

What made Petra possible at all was water. The area saw flash floods (and drought). The Nabataeans built an artificial oasis by controlling the water and it’s spread through the city. They used a combination of dams, water conduits, and cisterns to hold and distribute the water. Supplying visitors and city dwellers gave the city a source of income it wouldn’t have had otherwise in the desert.

Monastery at Petra

Monastery at Petra

First Glimpse of Petra

First Glimpse of Petra

The Petra Theatre, built by the Nabataeans and expanded by the Romans

The Petra Theatre, built by the Nabataeans and expanded by the Romans

At the end of the Siq of Petra you find the ancient Treasury.

The ancient Treasury.

The Monastery (Al Dier), Petra, Jordan

The Monastery (Al Dier), Petra, Jordan

Royal Tombs at Petra: (Left) Palace Tomb, (Right) Corinthian Tomb

Royal Tombs at Petra: (Left) Palace Tomb, (Right) Corinthian Tomb

The view up here of Petra is fabulous!

The view up here of Petra is fabulous!

Rock Cut Tombs at Petra.

Rock Cut Tombs at Petra.

The Great Temple in Petra, Jordan

The Great Temple in Petra, Jordan

The Khazneh is the first to greet the visitors.

The Khazneh is the first to greet the visitors.

Isn’t it amazing? I can’t wait for a chance to go see Petra!

Travel to St. Petersburg: 10 Things You Gotta Do!

1. The Palace Square –

At the center of the Palace Square is the Alexander Column. This column with the angel on top, was built to celebrate Russia’s victory over Napoleon. When I was in St. Petersburg in 1997 Boris Yeltsin was visiting the city too. He came through the zone with an ambulance following behind.

Just before he did we had gotten out of our taxi so the taxi could clear the area, like the rest of the cars and people. We however walked the rest of the way to the Hermitage Museum, which was about three blocks, along the water. We weren’t stopped because we were obviously harmless tourists… I was 11. This is why the square is so empty in the photo above. Today the square is used for official festivals and gatherings.

alexander garden

Alexander Garden

2. Alexander Garden –

The Alexander Garden is located nearby the Palace Square. Its fountain is known as the musical/dancing fountain because it reacts to music playing in the area. Bring a penny whistle or harmonica or a couple of drumsticks and try it out.

The Winter Palace or State Hermitage Museum

Keira, Mom, and Tour Guide in front of the Winter Palace. The Winter Palace is also home to the State Hermitage Museum

3. The Winter Palace –

The Winter Palace is a beautiful masterpiece of the Russian Baroque architectural style with its roof is lined with bronze statues. You might recognize it by another name—The State Hermitage Museum. It is the largest art museum in the world with 150,000+ works on display in 1,000+ rooms. And that’s only 5% of the collection!!! Wow!

The Resurrection Church

The Resurrection Church

4. The Resurrection Church –

It’s also known as Church of the Savior on the Blood. You might recognize its onion dome appearance before the name as it has approximately 20 English translations. I was there in 1997 but just before the renovations were complete so I did not get to see inside, but I totally believe if you can you will love it.

Summer Garden

Summer Garden

5. The Summer Garden –

Peter the Great was personally involved in the planning of this garden. Its walkways are lined with 79 marble statues each of them on mythological themes. Some of the oldest statues in Russia are located here.

Field of Mars

Field of Mars

6. Field of Mars –

Here you will find Russia’s Eternal Flame. This flame is there to serve as a solemn witness for the fallen victims of the country’s wars and revolutions.

bank bridge russia

Bank Bridge

7. Bank Bridge –

Named after the Assignation Bank next to the bridge, the Bank Bridge is not to be missed because of the gold winged griffons flanking either end. Pavel Sokolov also created the lions and sphinxes for the Lions Bridge and for the Egyptian Bridge (mentioned in the Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan of the Kane Chronicles). These bridges are also located in the city.

St Petersburg Metro Escalators

St. Petersburg Metro Escalators

8. Take the Metro –

Have you ever heard of metro sightseeing? You definitely don’t want to miss the metro stations of St. Petersburg. Located deep, deep, deep, in the center of the earth, it is in fact the deepest subway in the world. Luckily you can ride down on escalators! Each station is a work of art, but if the most beautiful stations are all on Line 1.

Keira at St. Issac’s Cathedral and Monument to Nicholas I

Keira by St. Issac’s Cathedral and Monument to Nicholas I

9. St. Issac’s Cathedral  –

This beautiful gold dome cathedral lies on one side of the Isaakievskaya Square. Photography is not allowed inside the cathedral, so your only opportunity to photograph the cathedral is from the square. The square is also home to the Monument to Nicholas I and framing both in your photo will make for a fantastic souvenir.

Narva Triumphal Arch

Narva Triumphal Arch

10. The Narva Triumphal Arch –

The arch was built as a war memorial and hosts an impressive triumphal chariot pulled by six horses on the top. Both the chariot and the horses are made of copper. The copper is hammered giving the sculpture a wonderful texture.

15 US National Parks You Shouldn’t Miss

From Florida to Hawaii, and from the Canadian border to the Mexican border, America’s National Parks are a treasure-trove of natural beauty and recreation. Here’s a list of 15 of the best national parks in the USA that you absolutely shouldn’t miss. The National Park pictures are alone worth the price of admission 😉

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park

1. Big Bend National Park-

Take one of the scenic drives for gorgeous views of the Rio Grande.

Bryce National Park

Bryce National Park

2. Bryce National Park-

Awe-inspiring canyon views and hoodoos up to 150 feet tall make this Utah park a must-see.

Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park

3. Crater Lake National Park-

Stunning deep blue water and 2,000 foot high cliffs define Crater Lake. Summer visitors can take a tour to Wizard Island.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park

4. Death Valley National Park-

Bring a 4-wheel drive to see less well traveled areas. Have plenty of water with you!

Everglades National Park

Everglades National Park

5. Everglades National Park-

Book a guided boat tour or strike out on your own in a canoe or kayak to really see what the Everglades are all about. Watch for Alligators!

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

6. Glacier National Park-

This is a hiker’s paradise. Ski and snowshoe rentals are available in the winter for a great way to explore the park’s more than 700 miles of trails.

Great Sand Dunes National Park

Great Sand Dunes National Park

7. Great Sand Dunes National Park-

Hiking on sand is slow-going but worth it for an up-close look at the largest sand dunes in North America. And where else can you go sledding with no snow?

Grand Canyon national park

Grand Canyon National Park

8. Grand Canyon National Park-

Experience breathtaking views from the rim, hike to the bottom, or take a rafting trip down the Colorado River. Any way you choose to see it, this is a can’t miss natural wonder.

Haleakalā National Park

Haleakalā National Park

9. Haleakalā National Park-

Camp overnight and enjoy stargazing under strikingly clear night skies. In the morning, watch the sunrise over the largest dormant volcano on Earth.

Mammoth Cave National Park

Mammoth Cave National Park

10. Mammoth Cave National Park-

The best way to see the caves is with a guided tour. Mammoth is the largest cave system in the world, and hasn’t even been completely explored yet!

Mesa Verde National Park

Mesa Verde National Park

11. Mesa Verde National Park-

In addition to the beautiful desert scenery, check out some of the more than 600 cave dwellings of Pueblo people who called this area home for more than 700 years.

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park

12. Petrified Forest National Park-

Explore on foot to get the best experience in this park, which features petrified trees that grew 200 million years ago.

Sequoia National Park

General Sherman, Sequoia National Park

13. Sequoia National Park-

Pictures don’t do these majestic trees justice. Take the short hike to the “General Sherman”- it’s taller than the Statue of Liberty!

Yellowstone National Park

Old Faithful, Yellowstone National Park

14. Yellowstone National Park-

Visit Old Faithful, see the wildlife, go camping, fishing, or hiking! There’s always something to see and do at America’s first National Park.

zion national park

Zion National Park

15. Zion National Park-

Take in towering, colorful canyons beneath a bright blue sky. Hike “The Narrows”, at least partway, for the best views.

Visiting these National Parks will give you a real understanding of the natural beauty and wonder of America. Have fun!

Travel to London: 10 Things Not to Miss

10. Snap your picture with a Queen’s Guard.

You can find the Guard throughout London at different sightseeing spots: Buckingham Palace, St James’s Palace, Wellington Barracks and the Tower of London. While you’re getting your tourist photo with a sentry don’t forget to explore the places where they’re guarding. That’s half the fun!

Changing of the Guard

Keira at the Changing of the Guard

9. Watch the Changing of the Guard.

Changing of the Guard is also called Guard Mounting. Did you know most of these guards have seen action overseas? They’re not just there for ceremony. You can see Guard Mounting at Buckingham Palace and St. Jame’s Palace. Those performing the Guard Mounting at these locations are called the Old Guard and will be replaced by the New Guard which are coming from Wellington Barracks. The whole process can take some time, but there will also be band music playing. So relax, take photos, film it, and just have fun!

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

8. Check out Westminster Abbey.

Traditionally Westminster Abbey is the place of coronation and burial for the English monarchs. It has also seen many royal weddings. Most recently on April 29, 2011 it saw Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, and grandson of Elizabeth II, marry Miss Catherine Middleton.

Keira with the London Eye behind her in St. James Park

Keira with London's Eye behind her in St. James Park

7. Take a ride on the London Eye.

Get a sky view of London on Europe’s largest Ferris Wheel. The London Eye launched in 2000 and is London’s most popular tourist attraction. It is my opinion that for the best experience you need to get Fast Track passes or Flexi Fast Track passes. It allows you to have priority boarding and skip most of the line.

St. Jame's Park

Keira Drinking Hot Chocolate in St. Jame's Park

6. Stroll through St. Jame’s Park.

St. Jame’s Park is the oldest Royal Park and is situated at the heart of London. The Mall is a great place to stroll and it sees a lot of parades. The park is bordered by 3 palaces: Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and St. Jame’s Palace. From the Blue Bridge you can see the London Eye and Buckingham Palace. It’s also the spot where there’s deck chairs to rent for lounging on the lawn.

Keira in front of St. Paul's Cathedral

Keira in front of St. Paul's Cathedral

5. Tour St. Paul’s Cathedral.

St. Paul’s Cathedral is an active church with daily services and hourly prayers. The floor plan is in the shape of a cross with a large dome in the middle, which you can climb. It has three galleries and the one that’s closest to the ground and easiest to reach is the Whispering Gallery. If you whisper along the wall it can be heard on the opposite side of the gallery. Neat!

Big Ben

Big Ben through a Double Decker Bus Window

4. Listen to the Great Bell of Big Ben chime.

Actually Big Ben is the Great Bell, but over time the whole tower, clock, and bells became known as Big Ben. The rest position of the hammer is up instead of down, making it always ready to strike which increases accuracy. Speaking of accuracy it’s always correct within 2 seconds of the time. You can climb the clock tower, but there are only three tours each day during the week with a max of 16 visitors. If you want to do this you’re going to have to book in advance. Additionally kids under age 11 aren’t allowed up.

Shaftesbury memorial fountain in Piccadilly Circus

Keira at Shaftesbury memorial fountain in Piccadilly Circus

3. Toss a coin in the Shaftesbury memorial fountain.

The Shaftesbury fountain is located in the center of Piccadilly Circus and is bordered by the London Pavilion and Criterion Theatre, which are also great places to visit. The steps up to the fountain are a popular place to sit, snack, and people watch so bring a bite to eat and absorb the atmosphere.

A Little Red Phone Booth

A Little Red Phone Booth

2. Call home from an iconic Red Phone Booth.

Red phone booths are classic for England. If you see one go take a picture with it! While you’re at it place a call home to tell them about your experiences so far in London. Won’t they be jealous? At the very least pretend to dial “62442” (“magic”) so you can get into the Ministry of Magic from the Harry Potter books. If you bring a pair of circular Potter glasses your photo will be even better!

Egyptian Motif at Harrods

Egyptian Motif at Harrods

1. Shop at Harrods.

The one thing you can’t forget to do in London is to shop at Harrods. Their 7 floors of stores and shops get 15 millions shoppers annually. In addition, there are 30 dine in eateries. It will be an unforgettable experience and you just might get some shopping done for birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays if you don’t buy for yourself first. 😉