Summer is a time for exploration.

Check out these five places to uncover grand, new adventures:

1 Learn about life in Cuba.

With a strong focus on lifelong learning, Road Scholar educational adventures provide multigenerational travel opportunities in 50 states and 150 countries around the world. Now, you can travel to Cuba, where you’ll have the opportunity to meet with local community leaders, artists and local families to discuss the changes under way. Crafted for children 9 and older, and their adult family members, you’ll also visit local landmarks and sample local dance, music and cuisine.

Contact: 1-800-454-5768; www.roadscholar.org

2 Head south to ski.

Consider trading ho-hum summer heat for the thrill of South American high country. From June through October, you can access premier powder in Chile and Argentina. The pros from U.S.-based Powder Quest can help you choose from snow ski tours, instruction-based outings and snowboard adventures in pristine mountain environments. There are also cat-skiing and heli-skiing options to provide a dual altitude and adrenaline fix.

Contact: 1-888-565-7158; www.powderquest.com

3 Dive the Great Blue Hole, Ambergris Caye, Belize.

Scuba enthusiasts are eager to dive this large submarine sinkhole once explored by Jacques Cousteau. Located near the center of Lighthouse Reef, the Great Blue Hole is part of the large Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, a World Heritage site.

Experienced divers have the opportunity to see remarkable limestone formations as well as several species of shark in the crystal waters. The dive destination is 60 miles from Ambergris Caye; working with an experienced and reputable outfitter is essential. Las Terrazas Resort is a family-friendly condo-style hotel adjacent to the White Sands Dive Shop, where Professional Association of Diving Instructors-certified owner Elbert Greer will ensure your dive experience is top-notch.

Contact: www.lasterrazasresort.com; www.whitesandsdiveshop.com; www.travelbelize.org

4 Visit a castle, County Mayo, Ireland.

Ashford Castle, built in the 13th century on the banks of the Lough Corrib and the River Cong, was once a monastery and later served as the Guinness family home.

Check in with children 2 and younger and you’ll find a teddy bear and a full supply of baby care items waiting. Older children have their own bathrobes to get cozy after a day spent exploring the spacious grounds. Go for a private Hawk Walk, ride horses or learn the history of falconry with on-site experts. Plan to fly-fish for brown trout and salmon with Orvis-endorsed guides.

Contact: ashford.ie; www.discoverireland.com

5 Relax on the Long Beach Peninsula, Wash. A longtime favorite family beach destination, Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula is known for its lodging options, great birding, digging for razor clams, fishing and kite-flying.

It’s also known for beach-driving. You can ride horses on the beach, go whale watching, enjoy area festivals and hike nearby trails.

Contact: 1-800-451-2542; funbeach.com

Published in Go Global

Gather your family to wish upon a star.

Here are five extraordinary places to view the night sky:

African Skies.

Check into Little Kulala, a desert eco-retreat within southern Africa’s Kulala Wilderness Reserve. Hop aboard a Land Rover to scope out springbok, ostrich and oryx or float above the dramatic landscape in a hot air balloon.   Visit the world's tallest dunes amid Namibia’s famed “sand sea”. Then fall asleep on your rooftop Sky Bed and enjoy a late night show where shooting stars and the Milky Way serve as headliners. Contact: www.wilderness-safaris.com/safaris/index.jsp; www.TravelBeyond.com.

Winter Star Party. West Summerland Key, FL.  

Every February, during the new moon week, amateur astronomers gather in the Florida Keys for six days to learn from guest speakers, observe an unobstructed clear night sky and share information with other star enthusiasts. Hosted by the Southern Cross Astronomical Society (SCAS), Inc., the Stellar Star Party also includes a Kids Kamp.  Contact: 1-800-FLA-KEYS; www.fla-keys.com ;www.scas.org.

Arizona Nights.

In 2001, the City of Flagstaff, in Northern Arizona, was designated the world's first "International Dark-Sky City" by the International Dark-Sky Association. Expect stellar stargazing as well as the chance to tour the Lowell Observatory. You’ll see the telescope where planet Pluto was discovered in the 1930's and look through the century-old Clark telescope. Further south, check into the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale where you’ll find high powered telescopes in your room and constellation charts on your pillow at turndown. Opt in for complimentary Friday evening stargazing with a local astronomer or a Celestial Picnic accompanied by a pro.

Contact: www.lowell.edu; www.FlagstaffArizona.com; www.fourseasons.com/scottsdale/

Red Rock Country.

By night, the dark skies of Utah provide ample opportunity for magnificent stargazing. Join astronomer Alex Ludwig atop a mesa to learn about star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies. He will explain how Native Americans teach their children about the constellations, lancing the quiet night with stories that will entrance young and old. By day, a slew of parks, canyons and rivers provide outdoor adventure opportunities.

Contact: 435-210-0066; www.moab-astronomy.com; www.discovermoab.com/

Northern Lights From Norway.

Because of an increase in solar flares, NASA is predicting Northern Lights activity will be stronger this winter than any time in the last 50 years. Therefore cruising Norway’s coast high above the Arctic Circle could provide family travelers with the opportunity to experience the aurora borealis in a rare and extraordinary way. In addition to visiting ports that provide a glimpse into winter life in Norway, passengers will also be privy to lectures regarding the Northern lights as well as local culture and history.

Contact: www.VisitNorway.com; www.hurtigruten.com.

Photo: Copyright Lynn O'Rourke Hayes - Little Kulala, Namibia 

Published in Explore

jordan 

Irene Lane, founder of Greenloons, offers her picks for ten compelling eco destinations:  

1.  Jordan’s eco-lodges combine local heritage and educational experiences while exploring a mix of modernity, ancient wonders and nature. Think horse or camel safaris, Bedouins, the endangered Arabia oryx, Petra, the Dead Sea and trekking through Dana Nature Reserve. 

2. Borneo’s jungles, beaches, caves, exotic wildlife and more than 5,000 diverse and endemic plant species are revealed by, among others, trekking the relatively untouched Mt. Kinabalu and exploring the Kinabatangang River, home to wild boar, orangutans, elephants, king fishers, macaque and proboscis monkeys.  Award-winning eco-lodges harvest rainwater, use solar power and manage wildlife rehabilitation. 

3. The Philippines is among National Geographic’s 20 Best Destinations and Palawan Island its top eco-destination.  Among 7,000 islands guests swim with whale sharks, discover endangered sea turtles, spy on the rare Philippine eagle and discover the mountain-to-sea ecosystem of the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park. Eco-lodges serve locally sourced food and wildlife education.  

4. Belize offers more than 87 distinct types of ecosystems, making ecotourism the lifeblood of its economy.  Along with 150 identified species of mammals are rainforests, Mayan temples, the world’s second longest barrier reef and an abundance of eco-lodges educating travelers about the fragility of its ecosystem.  

5. Botswana favors low volume, high quality, environmentally conscious safari travel into the Okavango Delta and Kalahari Desert, the savannahs of the Moremi Reserve and the forests of Chobe and Linyanta Game Reserves.  Guests enjoy game drives, walking, elephant/horseback/bicycle safaris and boating, plus youth explorer programs emphasizing conservation and bush survival skills. Tented bush camps are environmentally friendly.  

6. Poland has mountains, rivers and wetlands and is a haven for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds as well as avid hiking enthusiasts. With 23 National Parks and forests covering nearly 30 percent of the country, Poland has its own Big Game: the European bison, lynx, stoats, martens and red deer.  Guests can enjoy eco-ranch lodges. 

7. Croatia’s eco/agritourism focuses on culinary tours with locally sourced organic produce and family farm stays. Activities can include hiking, biking, rafting and canoeing.

8. Guyana’s mountain ranges, savannahs and jungle canopy walks combine with river and rainforest eco-lodges for close-up views of exotic birds, jaguars, red howler monkeys, giant river otters and other wildlife.  The famed Karanambu Ranch rehabilitates orphaned giant river otters so they can be released back into the wild. 

9. Argentina is home to Glacier National Park and the active Perito Moreno, one of the world’s only advancing glaciers, as well as the tropical rain forests of Iguazu Falls near Brazil, the Antarctic environment of Tierra del Fuego, the Andean mountains, the wind-swept Patagonian steppe and the coastal marine habitat of the Valdes Peninsula. Eco-lodges are crafted from local materials to integrate with the environment. 

10. Ethiopia may be a trek across the Roof of Africa through the virtually untouched Simien Mountains, home of the Gelada baboon, Walia ibex and endangered Ethiopian wolf. Or it may be Rift Valley Lakes and Blue Nile Falls or Lalibela, considered to be one of the greatest spiritual-historical sites of the world. Eco-lodgings are built in the traditional “tikka” style and solar-powered.

Photo: Petra, Jordan 

Published in My Travel Style

Learn to sail or relax and let the wind ( and your ship’s captain ) set your course. Spending time on the water gives family travelers a chance to reconnect and see the world from a different point of view.

Here are seven ways to set sail with your family on board:

1.Out The Front Door. Beautiful resorts like the Palau Pacific Resort, in Micronesia, offer colorful sailboats for the use of their guests. Relax on the beach, then invite one of your family members to share time on the water. (Go ahead. Race! ) This enchanting 160-room resort opened in 1984 on the site of a WW2 Japanese Seaplane base. Abiding by Palauan law, it was constructed no higher than the tallest coconut tree on the property and provides a picturesque, natural setting for a family holiday. Plan to spend time at the spa, snorkel, dive, kayak, hike nature trails and of course, sail! Contact: www.palauppr.com.

2. Hop on a Maine Schooner. Uniting their passion for historic windjammers with delectable food and top side fun, this “mom and pop” entrepreneurial pair (mom is the gourmet chef, pop is on deck) will share their love for the Maine coast with you and your family aboard the J&E Riggin. Book three, four or six day outings. Pitch in or chill out – the choice is yours. Contact: 1-800-869-0604; www.MaineWindJammer.com. 

3. Darwin’s Destination. Have you seen the blue-footed boobies? If not, set sail through the Galapagos Islands where the water and islands are teeming with exotic and colorful wildlife. It’s a trip of a lifetime. Contact: 1-800-941-8010; www.BoundlessJourneys.com 

4. Turkish Delight. Wander through small coastal villages. Explore hidden rock coves, wooded inlets and magnificent ruins from the Roman, Greek, Byzantine and Ottoman empires. Guests explore the coast and learn from local guides. This 15-day adventure is hand-crafted by ROW founder, Peter Grubb, and provides active exploration on the Aegean Sea and Lycian Shore. Departures: June, September, October. Contact: 800-451-6034; www.RowInternational.com 

5. On Your Own. Sail from Tortola , St. Martin , St. Lucia , Canouan , Belize , Baja or the Bahamas and enjoy relaxing days on tranquil seas. The Moorings provides sea worthy vessels, enabling families to sail on their own or hire a crew. Contact: 1-888-952-8420; www.moorings.com.

6.Small ship. Big luxury. Board a small ship and set sail for the Mediterranean, Greek Isles, Caribbean, Costa Rica, or through the Panama Canal. Windstar Cruises operates three sailing yachts known for their pampering without pretense and their ability to visit the hidden harbors and secluded coves of the world’s most treasured destinations. Best for older children. Contact: 1-800-258-7245; www.windstarcruises.com.

7. Great Lakes Getaway. Spend a few hours or a few days aboard a charming, but floating “bed and breakfast”. Sailing from Traverse City, Michigan, you’ll enjoy the grandeur of the Great Lakes from a majestic sailing vessel. Contact: 1-800-678-0383; www.TallShipSailing.com 

 

Train travel combines a nod to history with a unique adventure. Here are five places to ride the rails:

Heber Valley Historic Railroad. Heber Valley, Utah.

Choose from sixteen specialty train excursions, designed by this non-profit organization to educate visitors about their railroad’s rich history. Opt for a dinner ride that includes a comedic whodunit or participate in a Wild West escapade. Some families will opt to hop off the train, climb aboard an ATV, and make a bee line for the recently added zip line adventure. Come Fall, go full steam ahead to a private pumpkin patch. Kids can choose their own pumpkin to carve and scamper through the hay maze, before returning to the Depot. In December, the North Pole Express promises a visit from Santa and his elves before hot cocoa is served in a souvenir holiday mug. Contact: 435-654-5601; www.hebervalleyrr.org

Virginia & Truckee Railroad. Carson City, NV.

As the vintage train rolls down the track and the sound of a steam whistle slices the air, you will likely mark the moment as a family favorite. For more than an hour, enjoy slipping through the Sierra Nevada’s, by old cemeteries, abandoned mines and through an occasional tunnel, just as prospectors did during the Comstock silver boom of the 1860s. Be on the look out for wild mustangs. Later spend time learning about the rich history of the 150 year old city through walking tours, and museum visits. Contact: 775-687-7410; www.VisitCarsonCity.com

The Jacobite. Fort William to Mallaig, Scotland.

Harry Potter fans, gather round. That special steam train that transported Harry to wizard training at Hogwarts, is available for boarding. In real life, the Jacobite Steam Train winds 42 miles through Ben Nevis, freshwater lochs, the stunning countryside of Glen Nevis and other sites you are sure to recognize from the film series. The unforgettable journey operates May through October.

Contact:  www.westcoastrailways.co.uk/jacobite/Jacobite_Details.html

VIA Rail Canada.

In addition to jaw-dropping scenery from coast to coast, you’ll find plenty designed just for kids on board Canada’s national passenger rail service. Serving 450 communities, expect year round children’s discounts, kid’s menus and healthy snacks available. You’ll also find games, videos and mini-lectures crafted to assist young travelers in learning along the way. Contact: 1-888-VIA-RAIL; www.viarail.ca.

Durango & Silverton Train. Durango, CO.

For stunning vistas, climb aboard the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in southwestern Colorado   You’ll travel behind vintage steam locomotive engines that have been transporting gold diggers, silver miners, cowboys, explorers and family travelers through the picturesque San Juan Mountains since 1882. Themed packages include specials for hikers, bikers, and mining enthusiasts. Kids ride free on select dates during the summer. Contact: 1-888-TRAIN-07; www.durangotrain.com.

A parents’ guide for avoiding attitudes and embracing adventure

If you’re contemplating travel with teens you may be feeling a bit of dread mixed with that vacation-anticipation. “Making memories” can be fantastic, but the pressure to do it right, keep your teen engaged, and above all have fun can drain the pleasure out of any vacation. 

One of the best trips I’ve taken was a recent journey to Italy with my teen daughter, a senior in high school, to explore Pompeii for my upcoming historical novel, Pompeii: City on Fire.

Here are my best travel tips for those heading out with teens this summer, to make your trip memorable for a lifetime: 

Secure the “Buy In” teen travel

From Day 1 of trip planning, give your teen the reins in some area. My daughter’s excellent sense of direction always trumps my tendency to get lost, so she knew it would be up to her to navigate us through Rome and Venice. If there’s a particular location that interests your teen, give him the task of planning your time there. How about one day that is completely his to plan, from activities to food? He’ll have ownership of the adventure, and probably be more agreeable to the plans you’ve made as well. 

Mix Both Your Interests

Our trip to Rome was primarily to research Pompeii for my upcoming novel, but my daughter really wanted to see Venice. It meant a side trip of a couple of days and some extra expense, but seeing something she was interested in made the trip more enjoyable for both of us. Because I had no agenda there, I found that the days in Venice were wonderful. Find out what is most interesting to your teen in the area where you’re traveling, and make sure you spend adequate time there to satisfy her curiosity. 

Make Transportation Decisions Up Front

Nothing is worse than a teen complaining about too much walking or driving. If your destination is a city, decide before you arrive how you’ll get from place to place. Walking always feels longer than you expect. Public transportation provides local flavor and saves money, but takes more time -finding stations and waiting for arrivals. (Though my daughter and I have some laughable memories of Bus #64 in Rome!) Taxis save time and sore feet, but can be expensive. A mix of all three will keep everyone from getting too grouchy. 

Stay in Sync on the Education

If you’re headed for someplace educational and want to be sure your teen gets all the info, I highly recommend audio tours. There are a number of companies online that provide downloadable walking tours for worldwide destinations. My daughter and I loaded several of these onto our iPods, hit play at the same time, and walked the cities with our own personal tour guide. We learned history, but it also satisfied some of that inherent need teens have to be “plugged in”!

Just chill…

Take your cue from the average teen’s attitude, and don’t get freaked out when things go wrong. Because things will go wrong! Be spontaneous and flexible and embrace the unexpected as an adventure. I can hardly count the episodes my daughter and I encountered – a missed bus at the top of Mt. Vesuvius, a surprise roadside downpour, late night searches for wi-fi – but every one of them is now an entertaining story we brought back. Don’t let detours ruin the fun.

Give them Space

Are you continually amazed at the amount of time your teen can spend asleep on the weekends? Don’t forget that they still need extra downtime when you’re traveling, too. Be sensitive to their need for a little space and some extra rest. If the crankiness starts to build, it’s time to take a break.

Preserve the Memories

Don’t forget to get pictures with your teen. It’s easy to forget while you’re sightseeing. You return home to find hundreds of shots of the sights, pictures of your teen,maybe a few of yourself. But make sure you find other friendly tourists and get some photos of both of you in all the important spots. It may feel awkward to ask a stranger, but you’ll be glad you did. Those pictures together, taken at such memorable times, are priceless. 

Then Share the Memories!

Once you’ve returned, don’t let those photos disappear into digital storage! When my daughter and I returned from Italy, I used an online service to put together the best of ours into a photo book, an 8 inch-by-8 inch hardback book with a montage of photos of the two of us on the cover. Include some anecdotes and fun captions. And remember, before you know it your teenwill be headed off to college or life outside your home. It’s easy to order two copies, one to send along into life with your teen. Someday maybe your grandchildren will love looking through it! 

I’ve traveled the world researching my historical novels, but the trip to Italy to research Pompeii was unlike any of my others because my traveling partner was 17 years old. It was an adventure for both of us, and a shared memory that we carry into the future. Don’t let concerns over attitudes dampen your enthusiasm. With a bit of forethought, travel with teens can be great!  

Historical fiction author T.L. Higley doesn’t just transport readers to the settings of her books, she transports herself as well. Her trips to Greece, Egypt, Jordan and Italy have found their way into her suspense novels, including the popular Seven Wonders series. Her upcoming Pompeii: City on Fire brings to life the lost Roman city buried by a massive volcano.

Published in Travel Tips

"Ok, everyone. Look at me and smile!”

I snapped a picture of Tim, Katie and Matt standing at the exact gate where the bulls would be released during the upcoming San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain.

“Everyone ready?” asked Tim.

Published in Travel Essays

 I had the good fortune to join the inaugural sailing of the Carnival Magic, a vessel spawned by industry giant Carnival Cruise Lines.

Venice..............

Yes, that mesmerizing Italian city was the launching point for the freshly-minted, 3,690 passenger Carnival Magic.

And, no surprise, there was plenty of magic from the start. The nine-night cruise got underway with a traditional and enthusiastic naming ceremony during which Lindsey Wilkerson, a childhood cancer survivor, was bestowed the title of “godmother”. The champagne-filled event highlighted Carnival’s commitment to St. Jude’s Research Hospital.

With such formalities handled, it was time to explore the ship and find out for myself why sailing the open seas has become an increasingly popular option for travelers of all ages.

Given that I was new to this cruise ship game, I brought along a trusty companion. Colleen Horan, my long time friend and college roommate, was on board to help me solve this maritime mystery.

Sure, there were plenty of family members, friends and relatives who were eager for the assignment. But in the end, I thought I would share at least eleven reasons why collecting cruise vacation intel with your college roommate is a grand strategy:

1. Sharing is simple.

Checking into our cabin, we already knew that sharing the smaller-than-our-bedrooms-at- home space would not be a problem. Back in those college days, we shared far less fancy digs and managed just fine. And whatever we were lacking in our new sea-faring space, was more than compensated for by the cheery folks who came knocking at our door to deliver morning coffee, croissants, fresh towels, or whatever our hearts desired at any time of the day.

2. Knowing nods.

As we strolled from deck to deck with sun glasses firmly in place, we didn’t need full sentences to fully communicate about the people, places and events (like the hairy chest contest) we were observing. A knowing nod, or a slight giggle said it all.

3. The right answer.

Each night, as we dressed for dinner in our cabin, it was dining decision time. Would it be the beautiful new Italian Cucina del Capitano, the sushi bar or the trendy Red Frog Pub? Perhaps the Prime Steak house? While we pondered those culinary options, we often traded clothes and jewelry. And when we posed that all important question: “Does this look ok?" , we always got the right answer.

4. Happy sampling.

We were each happy to sample each others food or wine and innately knew the meaning of a “taste”, unlike say, a teenaged boy.

5. Spa time? YES!

There was no negotiating about spending time at the onboard spa. We were definitely making that a priority.

6. Talking in circles.

We could endlessly circle the deck-top jogging track, part of the ship’s uber-hip Sport Square activity area, and never run out of things to talk about.

7. Off duty. We could enjoy great meals or snacks at virtually every time of the day and neither of us had to cook…or clean up.

8. Water babes.

We both looked approvingly at the bright and shiny WaterWorks, a colorful water play area overlooking the main pool deck. (Reported to be one of the largest at sea.) In our youth, we were both water-friendly, swim team members. Had it been just a little bit warmer, we would have taken on the 312-foot-long Twister or the gotta-scream-as-you-circle-your- way down DrainPipe.

9. Free birds.

We could stay up late and gossip. Or sleep in. Why? No one needed a ride, extra money, an instant answer or our opinion about anything. We were free to revert to our inner teenaged selves.

10. It's all good.

When headed off the ship for shore excursions, (to great places like Dubrovnik, Rome and Vatican City, Taormina, and Cinque Terra) we could shop, explore, photograph, dine, sample, chat, hike, observe or return together….or not. Because that’s what life-long friends can do.

11. Memories old and new.

Throughout the adventure, from Venice to Barcelona, we could laugh heartily at each other’s jokes, remember the good ole days (when our stomachs were flatter) and be extraordinarily grateful for the amazing day before us.

For more information about planning your own cruise, visit www.Carnival.com or contact your travel agent.

Published in Cruise

I learned about the basic American hotel room from Howard Johnson in the 1960’s. Two double beds with back boards bolted to the wall, two fake oil paintings above said backboards, a stand in between the beds with a lamp and phone, a standard bathroom, and a TV.   The last time I checked, little has changed. When you book a room in the USA you know exactly what you are getting.

This is not the case overseas. Europe has a 1-5 star rating system that is extremely consistent. But the stars have more to do with the amenities offered than the overall glamour quotient. My family quickly found that three star hotels were the right match for us. They were affordable, often family owned, clean, and came with breakfast in the morning. But the similarities stopped there. When it came to design, well, let’s just say that half the adventure of our day was exploring our night’s lodgings.

First, when you make reservations you must specify how many people will be in the room because you are charged per person rather than per room. Since we always wanted to be together, we would ask for a room for four people thinking that would be easy: two queen beds, Ho Jo style. But that was simply not the norm. Because there is no norm. Sometimes we’d get a double and two singles, or three singles and a sleeping bag, sometimes bunk beds, and sometimes four singles jammed into a space that looks like it could hold only a double. And the beds were not always lined up in neat symmetrical fashion. They were jammed in whatever way worked like pick-up-sticks that fall every which way.

Some of the rooms were cozy with wood furniture and pretty wallpaper. And some were as austere as prison cells with a tiny window that opened onto a dark alley. And the bathrooms, well, talk about an adventure all its own.

Those Bathrooms

These are some of the unique styles that we have had the pleasure of sampling:

1. The shared bathroom down the hall. No comment.

2. The tiny bathroom that doubles as a shower. There is no shower curtain to cordon off the shower area. Simply a shower head in the ceiling and a drain in the floor. The entire contents of the bathroom gets soaking wet including all of your make-up and toiletries. After toweling off you feel this pressure to towel off the entire bathroom. Very time consuming.

3. The tiny bathroom that has a little shower curtain but no basin on the floor so the whole bathroom fills up with water since the drain usually is very slow and you have to slosh around in an inch or two of sudsy water while you attempt to towel off and get dressed. At least your toiletries and make-up are safe. But be careful not to drop the hairdryer.

4. The tiny bathroom with a shower curtain and a basin to catch the water. This is an appreciated upgrade. Even more so when the water temperature doesn’t alternate between ice and lava while you are showering.

5. The mid-sized bathroom with no shower. Only a tub with a hand held spigot for rinsing. Bath tubs are not necessarily designed for pampering, unless of course your idea of relaxing involves bending all of your joints at 90 degree angles at the same time. Again, this bathing experience usually ends up with water all over the bathroom floor as the absence of a shower curtain insures that the water from your hand held sprayer will bounce off your head and shoulders and land anywhere outside the tub. Besides, it is inevitable that at least once during the bath you will forget about the sprayer and will turn it in some unexpected position and it will spray all over the room. Usually hitting your make-up and toiletries.

6. The fancy bathroom. Once in awhile we would luck out and get a spacious bathroom with a big tub and separate shower. We would feel like royalty and take turns soaking in the tub after dinner thinking about the good old days when this was just a normal occurrence.

7. My personal favorite was the bathroom in the hotel outside Siena. This bathroom, presumably to save space, had a molded shower/bidet contraption that was cylindrical in shape. (God help the people that were over 140 lbs because there was no way the door would close) Besides the fact that you had to shower in the previous tenant’s bidet residue, you were sure that any moment you would be beamed up to the Enterprise in your birthday suit to meet Captain Kirk and the crew.

And another thing.

You will invariably find a cord hanging in every shower or bath. It is affixed to this little box that is stuck to the wall high above your head. Presumably it is to call for help if there is an emergency. What, exactly, are all of these bathroom emergencies that are going on all over Europe? Why have we not heard of these on CNN or FOX News? If you do pull on it (and you have no idea how tempting that is) does someone magically appear to help you? Does that someone look like Andy Garcia in a towel?

There is something to be said about all of this diversity. It has been amusing, creative, and entertaining. It has been the fodder for countless breakfast conversations and night time giggles. It somehow feels more human, and the fact that they are family owned makes them cozier. Maybe it’s the pride that goes into it, or the ‘make-do’ spirit. Or the individualism and personal touch of the owners who welcome you upon arrival and whip up breakfast for you at dawn.

It certainly made us wonder how a country such as ours, based on the strength and freedom of the individual, could evolve into a nation where everything looks the same.

Where’s the individualism in that?

Published in Go Global

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization works to preserve significant and inspirational places worldwide.

Designated World Heritage sites, they're as diverse as Yellowstone National Park, Shark Bay in Australia and the historic center of Vienna, and they symbolize the world's collective history, culture and landscape.

The U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization works to preserve significant and inspirational places worldwide.

Designated World Heritage sites, they're as diverse as Yellowstone National Park, Shark Bay in Australia and the historic center of Vienna, and they symbolize the world's collective history, culture and landscape.

Reviewing the list of 911 World Heritage locations provides an impressive history lesson.

Here are five your family would enjoy.

 

Statue of Liberty, New York City. Calling Lady Liberty "a bridge between art and engineering," UNESCO emphasizes the symbolic value of this gift given to the U.S. by the French in 1886. Since then, Americans and immigrants have revered this symbol of freedom, democracy and peace.

Today, the statue's torch continues to shine on New York's harbor, and tours of the figure remain highly popular. Reservations are required to enter the pedestal or climb to the top of the crown.

Kids can learn why liberty is important to preserve and protect and can earn a Junior Ranger badge.

Contact: 212-363-3200; www.nps.gov/stli


Great Wall of China. The serpentine wall meanders 5,500 miles across northern China, spanning more than 2,000 years of history. Constructed primarily during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) as a defense against invasion, the wall was designated by UNESCO for its "architectural grandeur and historical significance."

Parts of the wall now are damaged, disappearing or gone altogether. However, the segments that modern travelers can visit provide a window into Chinese culture and past. A variety of tours, from hikes to overnight or archaeological visits, gives families many options.

Contact: www.travelchinaguide.com; www.chinahighlights.com/ greatwall

 


Taos Pueblo, N.M. Continuously inhabited for more than 1,000 years, this remarkable community remains a prime example of American Indian culture, tradition and architecture. UNESCO notes the Pueblo Indians' ability to retain long-held traditions despite pressure from the outside world. More than 1,900 Pueblo Indians live full or part time in adobe homes in the community. Take a walking tour and learn the pueblo's rich history, view native crafts and see a unique way of life.

Contact: 575-758-1028; www.taospueblo.com;
www.nps.gov/history/world heritage/taos.htm


Carcassonne and Canal Du Midi, southern France. Step back in time on the cobblestone streets of Carcassonne, a medieval, fortified town on a hilltop in the Languedoc region. Children of all ages will be awed by the walled city, the castle and a Gothic cathedral complete with gargoyles. Tour the town, then head for a second World Heritage site just minutes away. From the Port of Carcassonne, embark on a barge tour of the scenic Canal Du Midi. Noted as an outstanding example of civil engineering and landscape design, the waterway was built between 1667 and 1694. Today's travelers enjoy day trips as well as longer cruises on the 150-mile-long canal, which connects the Mediterranean with the Atlantic via locks, bridges, tunnels and aqueducts.

Contact: www.carcassonne.org;
http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/770;
www.franceguide.com


Historic center of Riga, Latvia. Budding architects and design students will marvel at the art nouveau buildings that moved UNESCO to add this 800-year-old city to its list of heritage sites.

A charming capital alongside the Daugava River, Riga offers a mix of old and new, historic and creative. Visit the opera house, Vermanes Park for the kids, St. Peter's Cathedral and the outdoor markets. Riga is often called the "Paris of the North."

It's said the first Christmas tree was introduced here, in 1510.

Contact:  www.rigalatvia.net


View the entire list of World Heritage sites at http://whc.unesco.org.

UNESCO's World Heritage mission:

  • encourage countries to sign the World Heritage Convention and to ensure the protection of their natural and cultural heritage;
  • encourage States Parties to the Convention to nominate sites within their national territory for inclusion on the World Heritage List;
  • encourage States Parties to establish management plans and set up reporting systems on the state of conservation of their World Heritage sites;
  • help States Parties safeguard World Heritage properties by providing technical assistance and professional training;
  • provide emergency assistance for World Heritage sites in immediate danger;
  • support States Parties' public awareness-building activities for World Heritage conservation;
  • encourage participation of the local population in the preservation of their cultural and natural heritage;
  • encourage international cooperation in the conservation of our world's cultural and natural heritage.

Photo Copyright Lynn O'Rourke Hayes, Canal di Midi, France. 2010

Published in Global Excursions