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Prague's famous Charles Bridge is often jam-packed with tourists. Photo by Clark Norton

Prague’s famous Charles Bridge is often jam-packed with tourists. Photo by Clark Norton

You may have experienced it yourself when battling humongous lines to enter San Marco in Venice, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, or the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, or when you found yourself in a wave of fellow travelers struggling to get a peek at the changing of the guard at palaces in London, Athens, or Prague.

You may have been put off by hordes of drunken revelers in Amsterdam, Mallorca, or Berlin (of which, we trust, you were not one yourself).

You may have found small Alaskan ports or Croatian islands too overrun by your fellow cruise ship passengers to appreciate the beauty that attracted you to such cruise itineraries in the first place.

You may have sought out privacy in Iceland’s hot springs, only to find them packed with Game of Thrones fans drawn… Continue reading

Test your travel knowledge!

Travel photographer Dennis Cox has created this beautiful poster — a collection of his “photo paintings” from two dozen top travel icons around the world — and he’s offering a free poster to the first person who can correctly name all the icons.

Just email me at clark@clarknorton.com with your answers and we’ll do the rest.

If you’re a winner, you can choose this poster or one of many other artistic travel photo posters he has created. Subjects include The Art of Cruising, The Great Wall of China, European Castles, and the Colors of India, among others.

To check out all the posters in Dennis’ Photo Explorer Productions collection, click here.

Dennis also designs men’s ties and women’s fashions and business cards.

Good luck and hope to hear from  you!
Win this or another travel poster from Dennis Cox/Photo Explorer ProductionsWin this or another travel poster from Dennis Cox/Photo Explorer Productions

Nikko's arched Shinkyo Bridge spans the Daiya River.

Nikko’s arched Shinkyo Bridge spans the Daiya River.

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

Gold lanterns light the way in one of Nara Park's many shrines.

Gold lanterns light the way in one of Nara Park’s many shrines.

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

Many ryokans -- traditional inns -- offer public baths. Photo from Japan National Tourism

Many ryokans — traditional inns — offer public baths. Photo from Japan National Tourism

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

The bamboo grove at Arashiyama

The bamboo grove at Arashiyama

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

Buddha in the gardens at Ryoan-ji temple, Kyoto, Japan

Buddha in the gardens at Ryoan-ji temple, Kyoto, Japan

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

Some cherry trees still held their blossoms.

Some cherry trees still held their blossoms.

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

Yasu furnished us a pictorial guide of the route to his Airbnb

Yasu furnished us a pictorial guide of the route to his Airbnb

Third in a Series

Arriving in the Shinjuku train station, Tokyo’s busiest, can be a bit intimidating, especially after a trans-Pacific flight with little sleep and in the middle of rush hour.

An unfailingly polite people in every other way, Japanese commuters plow through the station like bullet trains, with little deference to gobsmacked tourists staring in bewilderment at the maze of signs and passageways. These folks appeared to be on a mission, and accomplishing that mission — getting to wherever it is they’re going — wasn’t about to let us stand in their way.

If you don’t like crowds, you might want to avoid Tokyo — the world’s largest metropolitan area at nearly 38,000,000 people — and beat a quick retreat to the Japanese countryside.

Fortunately, our Airbnb host, Yasu, had provided us with a video of… Continue reading

The UN's International Day of Happiness dates from 2013.

The UN’s International Day of Happiness dates from 2013.

The first day of spring usually conjures up images of birds singing, fruit trees and daffodils blooming, melting snows providing new sustenance to streams and rivers, and a general rebirth of life. The optimistic phrase “Spring is in the air” sums it up nicely.

Alas, the East Coast of the U.S. is being hit by another blast of snow and ice, according to reports. Here in Tucson the skies are sunny, the air is crisp and the birds are singing, but if you’re beset by storms, you don’t want to hear that.

What you want to hear is that March 20 is also World Happiness Day.

Officially known as the International Day of Happiness, March 20 (the Vernal Equinox) has been celebrated as such under the aegis of the United Nations since 2013.

Naturally, the UN has issued an annual report,… Continue reading

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According to government and private surveys:

  • Leading-edge baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1955) and seniors account for four out of every five dollars spent on luxury travel today.
  • Roughly half the consumer spending money in the U.S.--more than $2 trillion--is in the hands of leading-edge baby boomers and seniors.
  • Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) travel more than any other age group.
  • When asked what they would most like to spend their money on, baby boomers answered “travel” more than any other category, including improving their health or finances.

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