As a big fan of Alaska travel and someone who’s written about the state a fair amount, I realize I’ve been amiss in not previously mentioning one of the 49th state’s premier events: Summer Solstice in Fairbanks.
Just 140 miles south of the Arctic Circle, the city of Fairbanks is the top spot in Alaska to celebrate the Solstice on June 21. The Solstice is the apex of the Midnight Sun season, which runs there from April 22 through August 20.
During the Solstice, the sun never dips below the horizon and the sky never gets dark. So on June 21 or thereabouts, Fairbanks residents and visitors can either pull down the blackout shades when it’s time to go to bed or give into reality and just decide to stay up half the night.
Three Sun-Illuminated Events
Thanks… Continue reading
Today’s guest post, by writer Anna Kucirkova, lays out the basics of “travel hacking.” If you aren’t familiar with the concept, read on — it may help to inspire you to invest the effort it takes to start seeing the world for free, or at least less.
Baby boomers with the time to devote to forming a comprehensive strategy and with credit scores sufficiently high to become accomplished hackers may use these methods to land free flights, hotel rooms, and other travel perks.
Hacking is really no more than capitalizing on money you might spend anyway to take full advantage of all those enticing credit card offers you see on TV — and seeking out others as well.
But be sure to heed Anna’s warnings about common travel hacking mistakes. If… Continue reading
Nikko, Japan, is just 72 miles (120 km) and two hours north of Tokyo by train, but seems a world apart.
Situated at an elevation of more than 4,200 feet (about 1,300 meters) and sporting crisp, clean mountain air, Nikko’s central area reminded us of an alpine village, including some chalet-style architecture and a roadside stand dispensing crêpes.
A mountain river tumbles through a gorge and forests fill the mountains. Hot springs, hiking trails, lakes, and waterfalls grace Nikko National Park, which borders the city of 85,000. And UNESCO World Heritage Sites are within walking distance of Nikko’s central square.
Nikko National Park and a World Heritage Shrine
While Nikko is an extremely popular day trip from Tokyo, we stayed overnight and are glad we did. It gave us time to absorb the atmosphere and explore Nikko’s main claim to fame, Toshogu,… Continue reading
Eighth in a Series
Just an hour by train from Kyoto, Nara is a sometimes-overlooked jewel of a city that has played a key role in the historical and cultural life of Japan.
Often visited on day trips from Kyoto — certainly possible if you get an early start — Nara is well worth an overnight stay to keep from being too rushed. We stayed two nights and didn’t regret it, even though we had to change hotels after one night due to a booking error.
If you have more time, Nara is also a convenient base for exploring the surrounding countryside and villages filled with history, hot springs, and, in season, cherry blossoms.
Nara Park and World Heritage Sites
Japan’s first permanent capital during the 8th century AD before the imperial base was moved to Kyoto,… Continue reading
Seventh in a series
Taking a public bath in Japan can be a wonderfully relaxing experience — as long as you know the rules.
Our introduction to the baths came at Kyoto’s Funaoka Onsen, located on a nondescript street about a half hour’s walk from our Airbnb.
Here one can slip into a variety of hot and even hotter mineral-water pools, both indoors and out, and remain there until you start to boil. There’s also a sauna in case you need some roasting.
The residual effect is incredibly soothing and the perfect way to unwind after a day spent sightseeing or climbing small mountains.
Funaoka onsen is one of Kyoto’s oldest and finest public baths, though the most picturesque and authentic onsen are in the countryside and fueled by Japan’s multitude of hot springs.
But… Continue reading
Grand European Travel — which offers more than 300 guided vacations, escorted tours, and river cruises around the world — has a catchy quiz up on its website called “What Type of Traveler Are You?”
Just answer a few questions like “How Would You Spend Your Weekend?”, “What Does the Inside of Your Dream House Look Like?”, and “What Is the Perfect Travel Outfit?” — with pictures to guide your way — and find out what type of guided tour might be right for you.
If you’re like me, you may want to take the quiz more than once because some questions have at least two choices (out of six) that seem appealing.
When I took the quiz the first time, I was deemed a “Nature Lover” (which I am) and directed… Continue reading
With warm weather now upon us, baby boomer grandparents turn to thoughts of how to entertain their grandkids at times over the summer break if the opportunity or need arises.
Today’s guest poster, Gemma Tyler, suggests that taking the grandkids camping — now dubbed “gramping” — can provide a fun-filled and memorable multi-generational outing. Gemma regards camping as a great bonding experience, and I agree.
But if you haven’t camped for a while — maybe since your own kids were young — you may be feeling a little rusty about the basics: especially keeping young children happy and occupied in the outdoors.
So Gemma offers five practical tips to keep in mind before you get to the fun parts like hiking, toasting s’mores over an open fire, and maybe telling a ghost story or two.
By Gemma Tyler
Whether… Continue reading
Sixth in a Series
At first, it wouldn’t seem that heading to some of Kyoto’s most popular attractions during cherry-blossom season would qualify as an escape.
But the key to finding the peace and quiet we were seeking amid the throngs, my wife Catharine and I found, was to just keep walking — and climbing — once we got there.
On the same day we visited the Ryoan-ji Zen rock garden and the Kinkaku-ji temple (Golden Pavilion), we boarded an antique narrow-gauge railway that carried us in romantic style to Arashiyama on the western outskirts of Kyoto. (You can also take more modern trains from Kyoto station, or take a bus or the subway.)
It was obvious when we arrived that however they had gotten to Arashiyama, a good portion of everyone visiting Kyoto had conspired to visit at the same time as… Continue reading
Fifth in a Series
Kyoto has so many cultural and spiritual treasures that spending just a few days there can be an exercise in frustration.
But once you accept the fact that no matter how long you stay, you’ll probably only scratch the surface of what’s there, you can zone into a sort of Zen state and do and see just what you can. I’m sure most visitors, as we did, vow to return in the future to take in more. Still…
Even coming back
Many times will never be
Enough so chill out
Well, I never was very good at Haiku, but acceptance of the inevitable is key. Pick your battles and go forth and conquer what you can — even in the crush of visiting hordes.
I was impressed with the Zen-like demeanor of a German couple we met… Continue reading
Fourth in a Series
In most years, we would have landed in Tokyo right at the peak of cherry blossom season.
Alas, my wife, Catharine, and I arrived in the Japanese capital a few days too late in early April this year because the winter there had been unseasonably warm and most of the delicate cherry blossoms had already drifted off the trees in this breezy city.
Nonetheless, some trees remained in full bloom, as did many other types of fruit trees. And as we walked through parks that offer a wonderful respite from Tokyo’s crowded streets, scores of Japanese families were still laying out their traditional picnic blankets and baskets under the cherry trees, blossoms or no. And having a great time of it.
From our little Airbnb-rented apartment in the teeming Shinjuku district, we set out to explore… Continue reading