Thursday, August 11, 2016

Scooters in Italy Source Of Concern For American Tourist

I love traveling in Italy, and most of the time I'm overly cautions. My preferred mode of transportation is walking, seconded by public transportation such as a bus or subway. I try to avoid taxi's, although Uber has made them more feasible.

Last year, I was traveling with a group in Italy. My compatriots were first time tourists to Italy and hell bent on renting scooters. We were in Naples, which I had visited a few times before. Scooters are part of the Italian charm and woven into the fabric of the country, right up there with cappuccino.

But I hate scooters. They're dangerous. Renting a scooter in an unfamiliar city is a recipe for disaster. Naples, Italy isn't some laid back banana republic style island destination. It's a bustling city where harebrained scooter drivers hit the gas whenever they see a gap wide enough for their bike.

Road rage seems common. Impossibly tight squeezes the norm. If you have experience riding scooters, put your pride aside and venture through the streets of Naples on foot. If you've never driven a scooter and plan on learning while on vacation in Italy, slap yourself in the face.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Allego Train - St. Petersburg to Helsinki In Under 4 Hours.

Helsinki, Finland and St. Petersburg, Russia have long been uneasy neighbors. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the relationship has warmed as economic ties increased considerably.

Despite continued difficulties between Europe and Russia, the nearly five hour drive is a popular one for citizens of both countries. The Allegro Train cuts the journey down to a bit over three hours.

Macro economic differences are irrelevant to Finns seeking cheaper consumer goods or Russians visiting Finnish hospitals.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Killington, Vermont In The Summer - Yes, The Golf Is Good!

When it comes to East Coast skiing, Killington likes to throw its weight around. Much of Killington's advertising and literature seems to focus on the resort's status as "Beast of the East".

Until this past summer, I'd only visited Killington in her natural state - winter with plenty of snow. A Killington, Vermont vacation in July seemed about as normal as drinking frozen margaritas on a freezing January night.

One day, everything changed. Scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, I saw a friend's photo of Green Mountain National Golf Course. The course itself looked like Heaven's Mouth.

Beautiful, expansive, and not so crowded. I'll save you the details, but Killington is in serious contention when it comes to New England golf vacations. Lots of amenities, and the price is right.

Looking at Killington Peak without snow cover will forever feel abnormal, but drinking a cold beer while playing a round of golf has become a new Killington ritual.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Leipzig, Germany Holiday Like Taking Walk Through Cultural History

People call me crazy, but I wish I was able to visit the Soviet Union before it collapsed. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I admired their way of life or wanted to be a citizen of the USSR, I just think it would have been interesting.

Luckily, I've visited several former Soviet Republics, as well as Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe. My business has taken me to Leipzig, Germany quite a bit. Leipzig was an important city of the DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republik).

Although the former East German economy is mostly on par with its western brethren, relics of the communist state shine through. Taking the tram around Leipzig, urban blight is common. Dilapidated factories covered in graffiti are reminiscent of Rustbelt cities in America.

But time has marched on. Leipzig now has a reputation as Europe's haven for artists and musicians seeking cheap rent and studio space.

Leipzig's best trait is it's walkability. Combined with an excellent tram system and a focus on bicycling, an automobile is a luxury many choose to do without. Restaurants, bars, and a great music scene are all good reasons to visit Leipzig. There's even Starbucks.

To me, walking around Leipzig is like taking a walk through time. I enjoy learning about the storied past of an intellectual and creative city who's citizens have made significant cultural contributions.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Cheap and Secret Island Destination - Shhhhhhhh, Don't Tell. Cres, Croatia!

My parents tell me vintage stories of the Hamptons, on the East end of Long Island. They brag that The Hamptons used to be untouched, empty, peaceful, unpretentious. Pretty much opposite the Wall Street/Celebrity invasion that happens now.

I found a place that's still secret, untouched, empty. An Island paradise where you can truly relax and not worry about keeping up with the Joneses. If you read on, just promise me one thing. You won't kiss and tell.

This place needs to remain a secret. If you see me sunbathing on a deserted beach, don't wave, make conversation, or bother me in any way. Just wink. I'll know what you mean. You're welcome.

The place: Cres, Croatia. An Island of about 3500 made up of several small villages. Fishing and farming make up the local economy, however Croatian pensioners have also taken a liking to the place.

Spend the day relaxing on Lubenice Beach, then head to Porozina for a relaxed dinner. Those who enjoy clubbing, partying, five star dining, and exclusive resorts will loathe Cres. There is none of that. Cres is simple. Bring a good book. Or write one. Enjoy Cres, Croatia.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Get out of Bishkek and head to the Tian Shan Mountains - 12 Chimneys!

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in the summer can get quite steamy. Hazy, Hot, and Humid are common words associated with the Kyrgyz capital during the warmer months.

The pool scene at Bishkek's Hyatt Regency was getting a bit stale, so we opted for a trip to the famed Tian Shan Mountains.

The Hyatt Bishkek used to employ a security guard who was jack of all trades. If you wanted to arrange any type of excursion, he knew who to call. For a generous tip, he would set the whole thing up, soup to nuts.

Fast forward to the van ride surrounded by sparse Kyrgyz countryside. Potholed dirt roads teetering along the edge of impossibly tall mountains made a few of us reminiscent of lazy days at the Hyatt Bishkek pool.

The further from Bishkek we got, the more nomadic the lifestyle became. Traditional yurts replaced houses and animals roamed freely, irrespective of fences.

Finally, we arrived at our destination - The 12 Chimney's Restaurant. Maybe it was the 7 Chimney's or the 5 Chimney's, it doesn't really matter.

We drank local Kyrgyz beer and even covered ourselves in wool blankets, as the temperature had dropped precipitously - all while surrounded by a fine collection of taxidermy.

High in the Kyrgyz Tian Shan Mountains, the air was crisp while the quick running stream looked clear enough to drink.

This part of Kyrgyzstan has remained much the same throughout history. The Kyrgyz people have always been great stewards of their land - pay them a visit if you please.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

American Tourist Visits Brutalist Kyrgyzstan Historical Museum - Bishkek.

Below is a video of the Historical Museum in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. I shot this video after touring the museum, an experience I would recommend to anyone visiting the Kyrgyz capital.

Before even entering the Kyrgyz Historical Museum, I was awed by the structure itself. The building can be described as Brutalist or Modernist. The United States as well as the Soviet Union embraced Brutalist architecture in the 1960's and 1970's. Brutalist architecture was efficient as well as impressive in size and scale.

The Kyrgyz Historical Museum sits on a plaza of marble, fountains, and flower gardens. Honor guards stand at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the Kyrgyz Historical Museum, while a larger than life statue of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin watches over the rear.

Walking closer to the entrance of the Kyrgyz Historical Museum, I felt diminished by the building's overwhelming presence. After lugging the heavy door open, I made my way to the reception desk. Interestingly, foreign visitors pay more than Kyrgyz citizens, but the fee was still a bargain compared to other types of entertainment.

Much of the Kyrgyz Historical Museum is devoted to the formation of the Soviet Union and the triumphs of the Decembrists. Flags of the Soviet Republics still hang from one of museum's rooms.

When Kyrgyzstan became a Republic of the Soviet Union, the country developed considerably. Railways still run from Bishkek to Moscow, and a large ethnic Russian population calls Kyrgyzstan home.

Although the Kyrgyz Museum pays tribute to its recent history as part of the Soviet Union, the much longer history is the Kyrgyz people is also on display. A full size yurt (domed style shelter) and lots of elements of traditional Kyrgyz culture were of interest to me.

As an American, the nomadic culture of the Kyrgyz people reminded me of the history of American Indians. Indeed, the early Kyrgyz people share much in common with their Wampanoag and Narragansett brethren.

As one of the fastest growing international tourist destinations, Kyrgyzstan's historical museum will undoubtedly see an increase in traffic. If you can't read Kyrgyz or Russian, it is advisable to hire a Kyrgyz tour guide, as none of the signs or displays are in English.