The Egyptian Pyramids

Many people, including myself, find the Egyptian Pyramids fascinating.  So I thought I would provide some info on what I learned after putting them on my bucket list.  I hope you find this mini-history lesson helpful and, like me, want to visit them someday.

You probably already know that most of the Pyramids were built as tombs for the country's pharaohs, and other select individuals, many centuries ago.  But if you are anything like me that is all you can remember from what you learned in school.

(Courtesy of Huffington Post)

The earliest known Egyptian Pyramids are found at Saqqara, which is northwest of Memphis.  Some of these were designed by the architect Imhotep; and they are considered to be some of the world's oldest monumental structures.

The most famous Pyramids, however, are those found at Giza, on the edge of Cairo.  Many of the Giza Pyramids are among the largest structures ever built. And the Pyramid of Khufu is the largest Egyptian Pyramid.

Later Pyramids were smaller, hastily constructed, and therefore not built as well--this was a result of many changes.  Consequently, many have not been preserved well, or are buried by desert sands.

All of the Egyptian Pyramids were built on the west bank of the Nile.  As this is where the sun set, Egyptian mythology associated the west bank with the realm of the dead.

The Pyramids have always held our attention, even in more recent times.  In the 12th century, Al-Aziz Uthman tried to destroy the Giza complex.  He did succeed in damaging the Pyramid of Menkaure, but gave up after that because it proved to be too much work.  And the fascination continued into the 20th and 21st century.  Researchers have set out on digs throughout the years; in fact, the latest Pyramid to be discovered was found in November 2008.

I hope you have enjoyed this mini history lesson on the Egyptian Pyramids and that you go visit them.  I know I hope to soon.

Marianne

My Bucket List for Fiji

Fiji...can I just say we should all go visit and be done with this post?  😂

Fiji has so many things to offer...every water sport known to man, crystal blue water, pristine beaches, picturesque waterfalls, and so much more.  Read on to find out about several of the activities available on the island.

(Courtesy of Marriott)

Visit the Island of Taveuni

On the island of Taveuni you will find the Bouma National Heritage Park.  This location offers snorkeling in Waitabu Marine Park, hiking through Vidawa Rain Forest (complete with ancient ruins), exploration of Tavoro Waterfall Trail's three sets of waterfall cascades, bird watching, or views of wildlife.  Make sure you don't miss going on the Lavena Coastal Walk; this is a hiking trail that leads tourists along the coast, through the rainforest, and then to a stunningly beautiful hidden waterfall.

Visit the Coral Coast

Enjoy looking at the scenic coastline, which gets its name from the coral offshore, while you enjoy other regional activities.  Make sure you go for a dive in Beqa Lagoon, take in the views at Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park, explore Namosi Highlands, or wander around Tavuni Hill Fort.  Also available in this region is Kula Eco Park...here you can see wildlife, learn about the flora and fauna, go ziplining, and enjoy a water slide.

Visit Kadavu Island

Here you can admire the Great Astrolabe Reef, one of the largest barrier reefs in the world by taking part in reef diving or snorkeling.  Sailing, fishing, kayaking, and hiking are also popular on this island.  Away from the coasts, you will find tropical rainforests in the middle of Kadavu.

Take day trip(s) to the Lau Islands

Swim, snorkel, or dive in the water; and hike the interiors to see tropical foliage.

Visit Viti Levu

Head to Natadola Beach to find a white sand beach that meets crystal blue waters.  You can sunbathe, kayak, surf, snorkel, or swim (regardless of the tide).  While on Viti Levu, also make sure to hike through Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park for amazing views of forest and meadows before reaching the dunes.  Sleeping Giant Zipline, which has 10 separate ziplines, or Orchid Falls and Jungle Safari, with four waterfalls and wild birds among tropical foliage, are additional activities available on Viti Levu.

Visit Sabeto Hot Springs and Mud Pool

On the way to Sabeto Hot Springs you will enjoy a scenic drive past several local villages.  Upon arrival you can also enjoy a massage before or after soaking in the Hot Springs.

Visit Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple

This is the largest Hindu temple in the southern hemisphere; it is composed of three sections dedicated to Murugan, Ganesh, Meenakshi, and Shiva.  Admire the wooden statues of the deities, brought over from India, and the ceiling frescoes, created by artisans in India.  Please dress conservatively and remove your shoes before entering the temple

Visit the Church of Saint Francis Xavier.

This church features European architecture, an unusual find here.  The frescoed interior also makes for a stunning attraction.  Take note of the fact that congregants sit or kneel on woven grass mats, as is the custom in Fiji.

Visit the Garden of the Sleeping Giant.

Stroll through orchids, past lily ponds, and bamboo before enjoying a complimentary afternoon tea.

Visit Shark Reef Marine Reserve

Get up close and personal with sharks; or go on wreck dives or reef dives.

Sail to the islands of Mololo Lailai, Tavarua, Nomoto, and the outer reef

Along the way enjoy snorkeling in Musket Cove sand quay, swim, stroll along beaches, and enjoy a barbeque lunch.

Enjoy some time shopping

Handmade items can be found at La Galerie Fiji or at Nadi Handcraft Market.  (If you plan to take wooden objects back home, the wood must have been treated before boarding your return flight.)

Depart from Denarau Port on a cruise

Cruise through the Blue Lagoons and the Mamanuca Islands.  Upon reaching Schooner Island, a private and uninhabited island, you can snorkel, go scuba diving, or enjoy a massage before lunch.  After lunch you will sail back to Denarau Port.

As you can see there are so many fun things to do on the islands of Fiji.  Let me know what all you end up doing if you travel to Fiji.  I, for one, am excited to do all the activities above, plus canoeing and white-water rafting.

Marianne

New Orleans During Mardi Gras

There is so much to do in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, well basically anytime, but it is always more fun to go to New Orleans during Mardi Gras.  So read on to find out my Mardi Gras bucketlist, beyond the obvious activities during Mardi Gras (such as the parade or drinking).

(Courtesy of Travel Channel)

  • Watch the Mardi Gras parade from a balcony.
  • Go to a crawfish boil in someone's backyard.  It is so different than eating in a restaurant.  Locals use a Crawfish app to find the best prices.
  • Take a ride on the streetcar.  The streetcar is a beautiful, yet historic, means of transportation.
  • Go on foodie road trips.  Middendorf's fried catfish, Tan Dinh Vietnamese food, Mosca's Italian dishes, Drago in Metairie for their charbroiled oysters, and a Cajun country truck stop for boudin and cracklins...these are just some of the places to go on your foodie trip.
  • Catch the Soul Rebels on a Tuesday night.  Make sure to stay for entire set.
  • Eat the city's staples...these include Creole and Cajun cuisine, oysters at Casamento's, muffuletta from Central Grocery, Po-Boys from R & O, fried chicken at Willie Mae's, panéed rabbit from Brigtsen's, and BBQ shrimp from Pascal's Manale.
  • Make sure you get in line early to get lunch at Galatoire's on a Friday afternoon.  
  • See a live tradition jazz performance, hopefully at Preservation Hall.
  • Listen to local legends, like Irma Thomas, sing.
  • Visit Pat O'Brien's dueling piano bar.
  • Get a sno-ball, with condensed cream, from Hansen's.
  • Listen to the church choir at St. Louis Cathedral.
  • Do the tourist-y things.  Eat beignet at Cafe du Monde, ride the carousel in City Park, watch the street dancers in Jackson Square, take a horse and buggy tour, and try on carnival masks at souvenir shops.
  • Visit one of the historic cemeteries, such as St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.
  • Get a coveted ticket to the secretive MOMs ball.  Make sure your costume is up to par so you don't get turned away.

If you can't go during Mardi Gras, see if you can line up your visit with any of the events below.

  • Attend the entirety of Jazz Fest.  This is quite the accomplishment that many don't get around to.  Make sure to at least one item from every food vendor at Jazz Fest.
  • Enjoy Bayou Boogaloo from a canoe on Bayou St. John...just don't rock the boat.
  • Watch the St. Patrick's Day parade from a balcony.
  • Watch the World Oyster Eating Championship.

New Zealand Bucket List

New Zealand is at the top of my list of places to go.  I don't know about you but I just love visiting islands.  If you are like me, you have been dreaming about what to do when you visit New Zealand.  So I compiled a list of what would be my top 10 activities.

(Courtesy of Conde Nast)

  1. Hike a glacier.  You can hike Franz Josef and Fox Glacier on the west coast of the South Island.  You won't be disappointed exploring ice caves and crevasses.  There is also Tasman Glacier, in Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, that is available for hiking; this is New Zealand's longest glacier.  Whichever you choose to hike, you won't be disappointed.
  2. Visit any of the geothermal parks between Rotorua and Taupo.  These geothermal parks, located on the North Island, have multi-colored pools, bubbling mud, and geysers.  They are truly a sight to behold.
  3. Learn about the Maori culture by attending a traditional Hangi dinner.  These are most prevalent in Rotorua.
  4. Go bungee jumping.  This is only fitting, after all bungee jumping was invented in New Zealand.
  5. Go on a hike.  This is the best way to experience New Zealand's breathtaking scenery.
  6. Explore Milford Sound.  Many people describe this as the most beautiful place in New Zealand.  Ways to see Milford Sound include kayaking, taking a cruise, hiking, scuba diving, or taking a scenic flight.
  7. See a Kiwi.  The best chance to see these is in one of the many conservation Kiwi houses around New Zealand; but if you happen to see one of these elusive nocturnal creatures in the wild, count yourself lucky.
  8. Visit The Hobbit site in Matamata.
  9. Gaze at the stars in a dark sky reserve.  Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve on the South Island is well known for its star-gazing opportunities because the southern hemisphere stars are most vivid.  (And did you know that the South Island is where you can see Aurora Australis--commonly referred to as the Southern Lights.  Aurora Australis is best seen at midnight on a clear night between March and September.)
  10. Enjoy coastal activities.  These include surfing, paddleboarding, snorkeling, scuba diving, and sunbathing on the beach.  Just remember, summer in the northern hemisphere is their winter.

If you see the Aurora Australis, or anything else exciting, while visiting New Zealand--drop a comment and let me know.

Top Ten Things to do in Belize

If you're like me Belize is a place you have dreamed of going to for a while.  The ocean, the beaches, the warm weather...it all sounds so nice.  So what should you do while you are there?  Read on to find out what is on my bucket list.

(Courtesy of Lonely Planet)

  1. Visit any one of the numerous ruins.  There are several to choose from, so you can take your pick.  Caracol is part of the Mayan Ruins with none of the crowds like Tikal, in bordering Guatemala.  You can climb the highest pyramid of Caracol and see far into the distance, even seeing into Guatemala.  Lamanai are other ruins that are more off the beaten path but worth seeing.  You can also explore Altun Ha, Xunantunich, or Cahal Pech.
  2. Enjoy seeing marine life.  You can snorkel or sail with sharks and rays, snorkel with manatees at Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary--just remember no touching, or swim with turtles.
  3. Catch a nice sunset.  This is actually harder than it sounds with the coast on the east side--but if you head to Caye Caulker you will see an amazing sunset.  A prime sunset spot can be found in under 5 minutes here, vs Ambergris Caye.
  4. Speaking of Caye Caulker, spend a day here at the Split.  There is a makeshift beach where the water is deeper and more blue than usual.  The Split is perfect for swimming and diving.
  5. Go caving in Actun Tunichil Muknal, voted #1 by National Geographic multiple times.
  6. Take a helicopter tour over the Blue Hole.  This allows for a better view of this iconic landmark than diving into it from a boat.
  7. If you are scuba certified go scuba diving in any one of the many reefs.  Please use reef-safe sunscreen and I highly recommend a travel insurance plan that covers scuba diving accidents.  World Nomads' Explorer Plan is an excellent addition to a top tier Allianz Plan.
  8. Catch an amazing sunrise at Ambergris Caye.
  9. Spend time at the semi-secluded Ranguana.  Here you can snorkel, kayak, paddleboard, or sunbathe on one of the most pristine beaches in Belize.
  10. Head to Cockscomb Basin to see the wildlife.  Here you can see jaguarundi, ocelot, or if you're lucky a jaguar.

If you make it on a helicopter tour over the Blue Hotel leave a comment and let me know!

Visiting Vegas

Being from Vegas, I love to go back and visit.  The best time to visit Vegas is March, April, October, or November.  The weather is comfortable and allows for walking around without unbearable heat during those times.

(Courtesy of NY Post)

Many people know the big things to do when visiting Vegas, like walking around Fremont Street or seeing the sites on the Strip (Bellagio Fountain Show anyone?); but there are some lesser known interesting activities to do when visiting.  So after doing the obvious activities, like visiting the M&M factory, taking your picture at the Vegas Sign, and gambling, make sure you save time for the less obvious activities.

Wander around the Neon Graveyard or enjoy dinner at restaurants in the suburbs.  There are some really great restaurants off the strip.  Make sure to go out to Nelson, NV, a ghost town an hour outside of Vegas, to see where movies like

Fools Rushed In

filmed scenes at during production.  Visit Mt. Charleston to dine in their lodge; or head to any of the state parks.  Red Rock is a beautiful state park on the NW edge of Vegas.  Another state park, that is an hour outside of Vegas, is Valley of Fire.  Valley of Fire is equally as beautiful as Red Rock.

Make sure you enjoy the less tourist-y and natural side of Vegas while you are visiting--making sure to follow the Leave No Trace rule when visiting national parks.  Vegas is so much more than just the Strip and casinos.  If you enjoy any of the more local activities, let me know which is your favorite of my hometown.

Marianne

Christmas in Finland

While definitely cold, Finland is a great place to visit from mid December to mid January.  Besides the chance to see the Northern Lights, there are several other neat things to do to enjoy the winter season.  Read on to find out what some of those activities are.

(Courtesy of Magnetic North Travel)

In December, head up to Rovaniemi in Lapland to see Santa and the reindeer in Santa Claus Village.  This is also the home to the Santa Claus Post Office.  500,000 letters are delivered here year round from all around the world; and Santa answers them.  From there head to Helsinki to celebrate Christmas in style with a lot of holiday spirit.  The lights, the shops, and the decorations are amazing!

In January, there are other activities to be done.  You can sail on an ice breaker boat, swim in the sea while wearing a full dry survival suit, and go snowshoeing.  In Helsinki you can go ice fishing, kick sledding, and ice skating; meanwhile in Lapland you can go husky dog sledding, ice fishing, skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling.

There are several accommodation options when staying in Finland.  There are conventional hotels, ice hotels that utilize glass, and igloos.  (But prepare for it to be cool inside igloos as they are kept a little below freezing so that the igloos won't melt.)

As you can see there is so much fun to be had in Finland during wintertime.  Just make sure to pack appropriately with thermal socks, mittens, hats, ski boots, goggles, ski suits, and body warmers.  Winter attire is sold there but it is often better to buy clothing before heading over.

Let me know if you go to Finland and do any of these activities.

Marianne

NYC from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day

I love NYC.  There is so much to do and see all year round.  This is even more true during the holidays.  Besides the normal activities, like going to a Broadway show, there are activities that are only available during the holidays.  So I am highlight my favorite NYC holiday activities.

(Courtesy Macy Thanksgiving Wikia)

The holiday festivities and activities kick off with the Macy's (Thanksgiving) Day Parade.  This is the most extravagant Thanksgiving celebration in the country.  The parade, which started in 1924, has colorful floats that attract approximately 50 million viewers, between those who watch in person and on TV.  The parade has operated every year, except during the WW II years.  It was first televised in 1939.  The parade begins at 77th St and Central Park West, and ends at 7th Ave and 34th St.  To watch it in person from a great vantage point, make sure you secure your spot by 6 AM.  (Bringing a chair to sit in is not advised; and we recommend walking to your spot from a subway station.  Parking is expensive and many streets close.)  Enjoy seeing Santa come by.

(Courtesy Urban Matter)

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there are so many activities that you can do.  You can check out store windows decked out for Christmas, walk around hotel lobbies and look at decorations, and wander around a pop-up outdoor shopping village.  The Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park is the pop-up shopping village not to miss where there is a free ice skating rink and an eatery.  Make sure you see Isaac Mizarahi's Peter and the Wolf at the Guggenheim, indulge in baked goods from places like William Poll or Two Little Red Hens bakery, and all the miniature NY landmarks (and trains) in the Botanical Gardens.  And don't forget to see the tree at Rockefeller Center, as well as go ice skating in Central Park.

There are a couple of different NYE activities.  If you don't want to watch the ball drop in Times Square, attend the Philharmonic's concert; though I recommend seeing the ball drop if you have never done so.  There are so many things to do to prepare yourself for attending the ball drop.

(Courtesy of Casablanca Hotel)

To get the best spot to watch the ball drop, I recommend arriving by 2:30 PM.  To stay warm out there for over 9 hours, wear many layers.  Make sure you wear insulated mittens, and not gloves.  You will not want your finger separated.  If able bring hand warmers.  Make sure you don't have exposed skin and that you are wearing wind/water resistant clothing.  Make sure you watch for symptoms of hypothermia, and if you start to show signs get the attention of any of the EMS all around and make sure you go inside.  It is neat to see the ball drop but won't be worth it if you get frostbite.  If you have to leave just head home as you likely won't get your spot back.  Make sure you leave any large bags, as well as alcohol, at home.  Neither are allowed and alcohol actually increases the risk of hypothermia.  Do make sure to bring a portable cell charger.  Finally, make sure you enjoy yourself.

Charming Savannah, Georgia

Are you looking for the quintessentially southern city.  Then travel to Savannah.  The city is charming in a very unique way.  Besides being very pedestrian friendly, it is tamer than Charleston.

(Courtesy of Vogue)

  1. Visit Forsyth Park.  This park is 30 acres and has a picture worthy fountain, the most photographed spot in Savannah.
  2. Use Old Savannah Trolley Tours for a hop-on/hop-off experience.  There are 15 different stops and trolleys circulate approximately every 15 minutes.
  3. Admire the architecture of the Owens-Thomas House.
  4. Visit the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.  The stained glass windows in the cathedral are amazing to behold.
  5. Sit on the bench by the Historic Savannah Theatre, in much the same way Tom Hanks did when he played Forrest Gump.
  6. Visit Wormsloe Historic Site.  Wormsloe Historic Site is the location that personifies Savannah.  Mossy trees line the street that lead up to the ruins of the Wormsloe colonial estate.
  7. Head to the Savannah Waterfront.  Walk the cobblestone streets and see all the building that were abandoned until the 1960's due to the yellow-fever epidemic.
  8. Enjoy a nice Southern meal at the Wilkes House.  Make sure you take cash, as they don't accept credit/debit cards.
  9. Visit Old Fort Jackson Historic Site and take in the history while you listen to the cannons go off.
  10. Visit Fort Pulaski National Monument.  This was the first Confederate masonry fort to fall during the Civil War.
  11. If you are traveling with a Girl Scout, then make sure to stop by the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low.  The home is now a museum.
  12. Visit the Mercer-Williams House.
  13. Visit the Andrew Low House and admire the architecture.
  14. Get some ice cream at Leopold's.  The ice cream shop hasn't changed since it opened in 1919.  There is always a line but the ice cream recipes, that have been handed down through the generations, are so delicious.
  15. Enjoy a meal at the Olde Pink House Restaurant.  The 18th century architecture will stun you while you eat.
  16. Visit the graves of some of the first colonists in Colonial Park Cemetery.
  17. Take in some history at Fort McAllister State Park.  The fort finally fell under General Sherman.

Let me know your favorite spot if you visit Savannah.

British Virgin Islands vs US Virgin Islands

(Courtesy of Lonely Planet)

You want to visit the Virgin Islands but you aren't sure where to go between BVI and USVI.  How do you decide.  Read about the differences to help you decide/

First, if you are an American citizen, visiting USVI is easier; likely the same goes for British citizens traveling to BVI.  And the two differ in characteristics in relation to travelers.

USVI islands, except for St. John, offer more commercial benefits.  But with that comes more hustle-and-bustle.  BVI islands are relatively more calm. There are far fewer deluxe hotels on BVI islands, most of those being on Virgin Gorda.  For USVI islands, only St. John matches the tranquility of BVI where it protected by the US Forest Service.  You could always travel between the islands to experience all their vibes.

If you are wanting to travel between islands, just know that there are only frequent ferry connections between St. Thomas and St. John.  To visit other islands a private boat or an airplane flight are often required for now.  So if you plan on traveling between islands, don't plan on a ferry.

Top Seven Things to do in Morocco

I can't wait to travel to Morocco.  And if you are like me, you are wondering what to do when you get there.  Well look no further.

(Courtesy of Forbes Middle East)

  • Explore the Marrakech.  Wander around the markets and souks.  While here walk around Bahia Palace.
  • See Chefchaouen.  Blue buildings make up this iconic village and create a beautiful sight.  While here visit the medina.
  • Walk around Merzouga.  Nestled in the sand dunes, you might see a few flamingoes in this area of the Sahara Desert.
  • Visit Rabat.  Rabat is the capital city of Morocco and sits on the Atlantic Ocean.  Don't miss walking around the Royal Palace when you visit Rabat.
  • Hike the Gorges of Dades.  The views here are so amazing.
  • Take in the sights at Ouzoud Waterfall.  You can see the Atlas Mountains here.  If you swim in the falls do so at your own risk; the falls aren't patrolled and have dangerous currents.
  • See the arches of Legzira Beach.  Only some of the arches remain, so make sure you admire the breathtaking red cliffs and arches.  Sunset is the best time to visit.  After you watch the sunset, enjoy dinner.

Top Five Things to do on Christmas Island

Christmas Island is a beautiful island.  This single island is an Australian territory, located in the Indian Ocean.  Nearly 2/3 of the island is a national park.  The island is made up of diverse mix of cultures.  Malaysian Chinese, Mainland European Australians, and Malay Australians make up most of the residents of the island.  So the island is often referred to as the Galapagos of the Indian Ocean.  Wet season, for the island's tropical equatorial climate, is between December and April; the island is in the path of northwest monsoons.  The island has a unique population of wildlife due to the island's isolation and climate.  The official language of the island is English but you will often hear other languages.

  • Watch the annual red crab migration.  The migration occurs between October and December.  Adult red crabs migrate from the forest to the coast to breed.  The eggs are released at the turn of the high tide and hatch as soon as they hit the water.  After a month in the sea, the young crabs make the dangerous trek back to the forest to spend the first three years of their lives.

(Courtesy of Christmas Island Tourism)

  • Enjoy the amazing scuba diving.  Christmas Island has some of the world's largest drop-offs.  The island is surrounded by narrow tropical reef that is home to beautiful types of hard and soft coral.  Butterfly fish, eels, and so many other types of fish can be seen.  The northern coast has the best unspoiled corals in the world, as well as docile whale sharks that visit between November and April.
  • The island is a year round nesting ground for green and hawksbill turtles, especially Dolly and Greta beaches.
  • Christmas Island is known for bird watching.  80,000 sea birds, of 23 different species, visit annually.  The birds are very unique and very approachable.  Bird 'n' Nature Week is also a great time to attend workshops and take part in seminars that discuss current research.
  • Celebrate any of the numerous holidays that are celebrated on the island.  Australia Day, Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Haji, and Month of the Hungry Ghost are just some of the holidays celebrated on the island.  During some of these holidays authentic Thai, Chinese, Malay, or modern Australian food is enjoyed.

Aurora Borealis--Where and When

(Courtesy of the Northern Lights Centre in Canada)

The Aurora Borealis is so magnificent.  No photo can do it justice.  So where, and when, can you go to see the Northern Lights?  Read on to find out more.

The Northern Lights are best seen during the winter and spring (so make sure you dress warm), when the days are shorter.  Best time to go is usually between December and April.  There is more period of dark and the skies are generally clearer (less cloudy on average during this time frame).  They are best seen out away from city limits and around the new moon.  If activity is high, you will be able to see the Aurora Borealis for 30 minutes every couple of hours.  Just make sure to keep tabs on the aurora forecast.  You can go here for the forecast for Alaska.

So now that you know when to go; do you know where all you can go to see them?

As mentioned above, Alaska is a great place to go to see them.  If you go to Alaska, head north from Fairbanks to see them best.  You can see them anywhere between the western coast and Canada.

You can also see them in Canada.  Anywhere between James Bay and the western edge of Canada is in the aurora zone.  Yellowknife, Whitehorse, and Churchill are good spots in Canada; if you go to Churchill you might also see some polar bears.

Iceland is an interesting spot to go to see them too.  If you go to Iceland, just make sure you set aside several days; cloudy skies prevent the Northern Lights from being seen, and Iceland is known for its frequent cloudy skies.  Those who don't plan enough time tend to leave without having seen them.

Finland, Norway, and Sweden also have locations where the Aurora Borealis can be seen.  In Norway, Tromso is a good location to view them.  Sweden has the #1 spot on the planet to see them.  In Sweden, head to Abisko National Park to see this spectacular display.  Abisko is known for the view because it has the least amount of precipitation, and therefore cloudy skies, of all the locations in the aurora zone.

There is the skinny on the Northern Lights.  If you go view them, shoot me an email at blackhamtours@gmail.com and let me know.

Marianne

Top Ten Things to do in Belgium

Belgium is home to medieval cities, cathedrals, palaces, abbeys, forests, and many historical sites.  Brugge and Ghent have been preserved over the centuries, and are beautiful to visit.  Brussels and Antwerp have a more modern feel.  Brussels has art deco architecture and grand squares to enjoy, while Antwerp has stores that appeal to luxury shoppers.

I have compiled a list of the top ten things to do while in Belgium.

(Courtesy of Shutterstock)

  1. Royal Palace of Brussels is the official palace of the king and the queen, although they live in the Royal Palace of Laeken just outside of Brussels.  The palace is along Paleizenplein, and close by Brussels Park.  Items belonging to Napoleon, King Louis Phillipe, Leopold I, and Leopold II are in the Royal Palace.  During the summer the palace opens to visitors, who are allowed to view select rooms.
  2. Grand Place is a city square in central Brussels.  It is one of the most beautiful places on the planet and many historical events have happened here.
  3. Atomium is an iconic structure and a symbol of Brussels.
  4. Gravensteen is an amazing castle in Ghent.  You won't want to miss seeing this.
  5. Groeningemuseum is a museum in Bruges.  It is located on the site of the medieval Eekhout Abbey.  This museum includes Renaissance, Baroque, as well as modern masterpieces.
  6. Basilica of the Holy Blood is a Roman Catholic basilica located in Bruges.  It was built in the 12th century and is amazing to behold.
  7. Museum Mayer van den Bergh is located in Antwerp.  It features the collection of the late art collector Fritz Mayer van den Bergh.  The museum includes Renaissance and Gothic pieces from Belgium and the Netherlands.  Artists showcased here include Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Master Heinrich of Constanch, and Pieter Huys.
  8. Museum aan de Stroom is the largest museum in Antwerp.  It is on the banks of the Scheldt River and features postmodern art deco architecture.
  9. Pairi Daiza is a zoo and botanical garden in Brugelette.  It has some unique exhibits.  Algoa Bay has seals and penguins; and La Terre du Froid has reindeer, raccoons, and a train museum.  Pandas on loan from China can also be seen here.  A steam train takes patrons around the zoo and provides wonderful views of the exhibits and the zoo's large lakes.
  10. Zeebrugge is a village on the Belgian coast.  It is along the North Sea.  This seaside village has quaint cafes and beautiful beaches.

Tips for an Amazing African Safari

(Courtesy of Conde Nast)

  • Make sure you talk to someone, preferably on the phone, who has been on the safari you are looking at before booking.  If using a booking agent, make sure they have been to places they are recommending.  Choose your guide carefully as they will make or break the experience
  • Find out about altitudes before you go.  Some can take you up in higher altitudes and you don't want to get altitude sickness.
  • Decide what wildlife you would like to see.  Different safaris see different animals, often varying by region.
  • Try to tip the same as the other tourists.
  • Make sure you are staying hydrated.  Dehydration is serious and you don't want it ruining your safari.  Also important is making sure you consume enough electrolytes to balance what you lose.  Sports drinks are recommended.
  • Always shake your shoes out in the morning before you put them on.
  • Carry wet wipes for dust; and hemorrhoid cream for bug bites.
  • Make sure binoculars are the first thing you pack, preferably with image stabilization.  The more magnification, the heavier and more costly the binoculars will be.
  • Take advantage of communal dining.  This will give you a chance to talk with guides and learn more.
  • Gaze at the stars at night.  I guarantee you will get a view like you have never seen.