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China

The Northern Lights, best viewed above the Arctic Circle,took the top spot on this Bucket List survey;

The Northern Lights, best viewed above the Arctic Circle,took the top spot on this Bucket List survey

While I prefer the term “Life List” to “Bucket List” — it just has a more positive ring to it — Bucket List has become the generally accepted phrase for delineating those often-challenging, mostly travel-related experiences you want to do before you, uh, can’t do them any more.

As a baby boomer, I’m acutely aware that I won’t have as much time or perhaps physical capacity as a millennial to, say, climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, which has recently slipped off my Bucket List until  I can work myself into better shape. A few more years on the treadmill should do it, if my knees haven’t collapsed in the process.

The good news is, Bucket List items don’t have to involve super-strenuous exertion. In fact, according to a recent TotallyMoney.com survey of 1,000… Continue reading

Yu Sheng, the salad that Malaysian Chinese toss to ensure prosperity for the coming year. Photo by Jade Chan.

Yu Sheng, the salad that Malaysian Chinese toss to ensure prosperity for the coming year. Photo by Jade Chan.

Chinese New Year (also known as Spring Festival), starts on February 8 this year and continues for 15 days.

It’s the most important festival time of the year in China — when millions of Chinese travel to their home villages and cities to be with family or friends for holiday reunions.

This is the Year of the Fire Monkey: a combination of fire — one of the five primal Chinese elements that include wood, earth, fire, metal, and water — and monkey, which is one of the 12 rotating Chinese Zodiac signs.

Chinese New Year is now celebrated by parades featuring dragon and lion dances and fireworks, family gatherings and feasts, and, on the 15th and final day, a Lantern Festival featuring illuminated red lanterns.

According to legend, Chinese New… Continue reading

  1. Don't forget to renew your passport if it expires within six months.

    Don’t forget to renew your passport if it expires within six months.

    I WILL pack lightly enough to get all my clothes and gear into carry-on sized bags. That means eliminating the third pair of shoes I never wear, the extra shirts I bring “just in case” I might need them, and all the other extras that force me into larger suitcases. (This will be a challenge for Antarctica, where I’m headed in February, but if I have to wear three coats on the plane, so be it.)

  2. I WILL buy one of those nifty, easy-to-maneuver four-wheeled suitcases (carry-on size, of course) that everyone in the world now seems to have but me.
  3. I WILL get a new passport by October 2016, since my current one expires in April 2017. (Don’t ask me why so many countries now require your passport to have six months’ validity after your planned… Continue reading

Sixth in a Series:

A Chinese symbol inside the Red Pagoda -- if you rub it, it's said to bring good fortune. Photo by Clark Norton.

A Chinese symbol inside the Red Pagoda — if you rub it, it’s said to bring good fortune. Photo by Clark Norton.

Like all rivers, China’s Yangtze is constantly changing, though in this case humans have produced the most profound recent changes rather than nature.

The huge Three Gorges Dam project has resulted in the water level rising more than 100 to 300 feet, depending on the location and the season, along a particularly scenic stretch of the river known as the Three Gorges. The gorges, while not as dramatically steep as the pre-dam versions, are still scenic and still well worth seeing, as my wife, Catharine, and I discovered on a recent Yangtze cruise with Victoria Cruises.

The rising waters have even opened up new scenery to explore: one excursion from our ship, the Victoria Katarina, took us on a ferry ride down the… Continue reading

Three Gorges Scenery along the Yangtze. Photo by Catharine Norton

Three Gorges Scenery along the Yangtze. Photo by Catharine Norton

Fifth in a Series:

The Three Gorges Dam along China’s Yangtze is a marvel of engineering — it’s the world’s largest power station ranked by energy generation, providing hydroelectric power for millions of people — and a disaster for the 1.4 million Chinese who had to be relocated when the dam flooded the Yangtze in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.

Some 1,500 villages, towns and cities were flooded and now lie beneath or partially beneath the river, as the water levels rose some 300 feet along the scenic Three Gorges, where steep mountains line both sides of the Yangtze.

Most former residents, many of them farmers, have been relocated to cities like Chongqing — which now has a startling population of 33 million — or to special “relocation cities,” where the river dwellers have been moved into new… Continue reading

The Xiling Gorge, one of the Yangtze's famous Three Gorges, begins near Yichang. Photo by Catharine Norton.

The Xiling Gorge, one of the Yangtze’s famous Three Gorges, begins near Yichang. Photo by Catharine Norton.

Fourth in a Series:

There are a number of iconic river cruises in the world — the Rhine, the Danube, the Amazon, and the Nile among them — and China’s Yangtze must be added to the group.

It’s China’s longest river and third longest in the world after the Nile and Amazon. “Yangtze,” in fact, means “long river” in Chinese. Also known as the “Golden Highway,” the Yangtze is the busiest river in the world and more than one-third of China’s 1.4 billion population live along it.

The Yangtze is actually divided into seven separate sections, but the part that most people cruise — and certainly the most scenic — is the 400-mile-long “Three Gorges” section between the cities of Yichang and Chongqing, a sprawling metropolis in southwest China.

My wife, Catharine, and… Continue reading

Kids preparing for a parade in Yichang, China. Photo by Catharine Norton.

Kids preparing for a parade in Yichang, China. Photo by Catharine Norton.

Third in a Series:

To cruise the Yangtze, first you have to find the ship. In our case, it was the Victoria Katarina, one of a fleet of excellent ships that U.S.-based Victoria Cruises runs on China’s longest river.

Finding the ship sounds elementary, but when you’re traveling independently in China and don’t speak Chinese, it adds an extra element to the equation.

First, some background: It seems most people take the three-night, four-day cruise down the Yangtze to see the famous Three Gorges and the Three Gorges Dam, which flooded this region of the river when it was finished in 2003, displacing 1.4 million people and making the Three Gorges somewhat less steep and scenic than previously. Note: they’re still very scenic.

That downriver cruise embarks in the city of Chongqing and disembarks in the… Continue reading

Selfie, anyone? Walkway along the Huangpu River, with Pudong in background. Photo by Catharine Norton.

Selfie, anyone? Walkway along the Huangpu River, with Pudong in background. Photo by Catharine Norton.

Second in a Series:

I suppose the title “City of the Past, Present and Future” could apply to many cities — but few, if any, as much as Shanghai, China.

Within the course of a few blocks — or just across the street in some cases — you can go from narrow alleyways lined with shacks that have no kitchens or indoor plumbing, to magnificent old temple and garden complexes, to stately colonial-era houses sequestered behind shady sycamore-lined streets, to a pedestrian walkway lined with super-modern clothing and electronics stores that light up like Times Square at night, to a waterfront lined with more colonial-era buildings and a river walk that has to be the selfie-taking capital of the world.

And across the river (providing a background for the selfies) lies the region… Continue reading

Sydney Greenstreet in "Casablanca." Peter Lorre was in it, too.

Sydney Greenstreet in “Casablanca.” Peter Lorre was in it, too.

I confess: I’ve dined on KFC in Nairobi, Big Macs in China, and A&W in Kuala Lumpur.

I’ve watched Bob Newhart reruns in Zimbabwe, ordered bacon and eggs in Mumbai, and visited the Holiday Inn in Swaziland.

There are times when seeing a familiar face — even Colonel Sanders — has proved reassuring while traveling in distant lands.

But usually not.

When I go abroad, in fact, I’m almost always drawn to the remote, the exotic, the unfamiliar, the unpredictable. Give me the jungles of the Amazon to the shores of Waikiki, the tea houses of Hong Kong to the salons of London, the ends of the earth to the easily accessible hubs.

When it comes to travel, I’m a hopeless Romantic, spurred by images on old postage stamps and scenes from Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre movies.… Continue reading

If Niagara Falls is on your

If Niagara Falls is on your “bucket list,” Expedia may get you there. Photo from Niagara Falls State Park.

You may have seen the Expedia.com TV commercial in which a man stops random passersby, questions them about their dream trips and inquires, “If you were asked to drop everything right now, would you go?” and suggests that Expedia is ready to buy them a ticket and send them wherever they want — if they go now.

The ad is titled “Find Your Spontaneity,” a teaser for Expedia’s current “Trip A Day Giveaway” promotion.

Some say no, they just couldn’t do it today. But one man, whose dream is going to China, does agree to leave that night — and the next image we see is him standing on the Great Wall, not quite believing his good fortune.

The first thing that bothered me about this ad is that unless… 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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