24. April 2013 19:36
The staff at The Group Travel Leader, Inc. relate their secrets to passing time on a long flight.
"Fortunately, I have trained myself to sleep on long flights. As long as I have my travel pillow and don’t stare at any bright screens for too long, I drift off into a sort of half-slumber. Ideally, that way I’ll be a little more rested after I arrive."
"E-readers have been a salvation for me. Long flights are a great time for uninterrupted reading. Instead of having to choose one or two heavy books, I now have a whole library on my Nook and iPad. Of course, I also work in a nap."
"As a mom, passing the time really means keeping my 3-year-old son occupied. This basically involves having a stash of all of his favorite treats, a backpack full of crayons, coloring books, cars and of course his headphones and DVD player with as many DVD options as possible. It’s all about keeping him quiet in order to keep the peace on the airplane and not have the business travelers giving me the evil eye if he starts getting too loud! If I am alone on a plane trip the answer is simple — I sleep!"
"My answer is iTunes and an iPad. Currently on long flights I’m reading “I’m Your Man,” a biography of Leonard Cohen, and listening to Van Morrison’s "Astral Weeks.'"
"I’ve flown twice in the past 17 years, so I asked John Brewer, vice president of sales, Aetrex Worldwide, who flies about 200 days a year for his answer. He said “I get some very good sleep on flights between eight and 18 hours. I watch a lot of movies on long flights.
“Then there is always work to keep me busy. I actually enjoy long flights. It is a time that’s just mine, no phones, no emails.”
"Long flights give me a great opportunity to catch up on my favorite podcasts. As soon as we’re allowed to switch on electronic devices, I queue up an episode of “Stuff You Should Know,” “Freakonomics” or “The Dave Ramsey Show.” You may also find me playing games like pinball or Tetris on my iPhone while I listen."
20. November 2012 17:51
Courtesy The Field Museum
I found it very difficult to rank my five favorite museums, since I tend to be a fan of almost all museums. History museums especially intrigue me, since even a small, budget-conscious museum can have incredible stories to tell. So I tried to pick the ones I would happily get lost in over and over again and still discover new fascinating nuggets of information.
If you don't see your favorite museum, feel free to comment, because I know there are so many wonderful museums I have yet to explore.
The Field Museum
I still remember walking in and gazing up at the toothy, 13-foot-high Tyrannosaurus skeleton named Sue. At that moment, history felt real, instead of just a set of stories. That is part of the magic of Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History: The exhibits do not just tell you about how dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures lived; they let you stare them down.
The Field Museum has so many engaging exhibits, I could go back again and again and not get my fill. Displays of a preserved mammoth and the infamous Lions of Tsavo especially stand out in my mind among the numerous exhibits.
Just the building itself is a work of art. Built originally as a fortress and then used as a palace, the Louvre in Paris houses incredible works of art that span time and geography. Since it is one of the largest museums in the world, it felt like a maze I could happily wander through for days.
Although I made sure to see the famous works, like the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa, what I enjoyed most was discovering works I had never heard of that nearly took my breath away.
Smithsonian National Museum of American History
The entire National Mall in Washington is worthy of much praise. However, there is something very patriotic about seeing the National Museum of American History while in our nation’s capital. It reminded me that it wasn’t always known that America would become its own country and remain that way through the Civil War, economic depression and other hardships.
The museum is proof that even a country as young as ours can have a rich history, with memorable artifacts such as the American flag that inspired Frances Scott Key and President Abraham Lincoln’s top hat.
The British Museum in London comes as close as you can get to gathering the entire history of humanity and fitting it all inside one building. From early Mesopotamian artifacts to the eye-catching Great Court room built in 2001, the museum presents a comprehensive look at human culture. My favorite section centers on the Egyptian legacy, with artifacts including the Rosetta Stone, mummies and statues of the kings of Egypt.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
If you like music, Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum can be a blast. Each level of the museum explores different genres of rock music with artifacts, interactive exhibits and, of course, lots of music to hum along with.
I found it particularly interesting to look at some of the crazy outfits worn by past rock stars, such as the glittery costumes of Queen and Michael Jackson’s famous sparkly glove. The museum also taught me what a wide variety of music inspired and shaped the rock music genre.
19. July 2012 23:11
You never know how people are going to travel together until you hit the road with them, which is why I felt nervous about my husband’s first family vacation with my mom and brother to Yosemite National Park this spring. Although I had traveled with them individually, I was unsure if everyone’s travel styles would mesh well.
On the Mist Trail hike up to Vernal and Nevada falls, it became clear how their traveling preferences differed. Jeremiah is focused when hiking and likely to choose 12-mile trails going uphill the whole way. My mom and brother like to amble along shorter trails so they can stop to rest and examine less noticeable things like rock lichen.
One clue the hike felt overly taxing to my mother was when she nicknamed the 300 steps up to Vernal Falls as “the stone stairs of death.” After hearing this, I moved ahead and matched Jeremiah’s quick pace to check on him.
“We’re making good time. I think we can make it to the top of the Nevada Falls,” said Jeremiah, although we had previously agreed to only hike to the falls’ base.
“OK. How high of an elevation gain is that?,” I asked.
“Another 1,900 feet.”
“Right, so twice as high as we just walked?”
“Yeah, but we can walk up it quickly.”
Worried about how my mother would feel about this change in plans, I slowed down to see how she felt.
“I can’t feel my feet. It’s weird,” said Mom. “I can feel my legs, but they are really mad at me, so I wish I couldn’t.”
After these two varying accounts, I wasn’t sure what to suggest. How do you keep everyone happy when traveling? It is a trick group leaders have had to learn through years of experience. Group leaders have to master the art of meeting everyone’s travel expectations even though those can differ among people.
Fortunately for me, when Jeremiah learned my mom was tiring, he volunteered to only go to the base of the falls as agreed. He compromised as my mom and brother compromised to hike farther than they might have on their own. But once we got to the base of the magnificent Nevada Falls, everyone was satisfied. That’s the power of travel: Even when both sides concede things, one impressive view can make everyone 100 percent happy.
31. May 2012 23:33
I looked and looked, but the view at McWay Cove in Julia Pfeiffer State Park did not feel real. The impossible beauty I beheld had to be part of some highly imaginative dream. Or I had been suddenly whisked up to heaven. Since neither of those seemed true, I had to accept the most likely scenario: I had fallen into a screen saver picture.
The little cove’s rocky cliffs, hills blanked with colorful flowers and 80-foot waterfall that flows into bright turquoise waters is unbelievably gorgeous. I knew I had found my new mental happy place. This breathtaking view stood out among numerous other immaculate vistas along the Big Sur route that goes up the coastal Highway One from Morro Bay to Monterey.
The elephant seals agree that this coast is pretty close to paradise. For April and May, the Piedras Blancas beach is covered with hundreds of female and juvenile elephant seals.
For a second, I entertained the horrifying idea that the elephant seals laying along the beach may all be dead from their absolute lack of movement. However, I soon learned that these seals were only very, very tired. Apparently months of hunting and giving birth in the ocean really tires you out. They hardly budged except to nestle further in the sand and the occasional sparring (play fighting). Some seals seeking an ocean swim would move a couple of feet toward the water before having to stop and take a short nap before moving again.
Along with elephant seals, I spotted harbor seals, sea lions, incredibly cute sea otters and two humpback whales on a whale watching trip in Monterey. The whales became an immediate trip highlight for me, since I had always wanted to see a whale in the wild after watching hours of National Geographic shows on these giant creatures. Watching them play next to the boat and occasionally look at us with curiosity was more than I ever hoped for.
Saying goodbye to the coast was difficult, but I took with me the ability to close my eyes and picture McWay Cove any time of day.
All photos by Jeremiah Myers
31. May 2012 22:26
While stopping a minute to look up the endless stone steps cut into the cliff’s side, I felt certain the upcoming Vernal and Nevada waterfalls would be worth the climb. I knew this not just because of the occasional glimpses of the powerful Vernal Falls, but also because I was standing in a rainbow.
Wind blasts Vernal Falls’ spray far down the mountain, giving the Yosemite hike the name Mist Trail. It felt like a sideways downpour, although looking up revealed only blue skies. The wind-blown water produced vibrant rainbows that appeared to follow me up the trail.
The sublime waterfall views that followed are typical of Yosemite. Everywhere you turn is larger-than-life scenery too magnificent to believe. You might spend twenty minutes soaking up the majesty of a waterfall before turning around and spying a towering dome filling the skies.
My favorite view, Glacier Point, allowed me to look at the landscape seemingly from the top of the world. Many of the domes, waterfalls and valleys of Yosemite lay before me in a dazzling vista waiting to be explored.
After four days of hiking every trail I could, I had already made plans to return some day. I can’t feel totally satisfied I’ve seen it all in Yosemite till I’ve climbed every mountain and looked up every waterfall.
All photos by Jeremiah Myers
18. February 2012 01:18
“Drivers in India like to play the game of chicken,” said Anil Bahal, my India tour guide with Globus, as we watched cars weave through traffic. “They like to drive at you until the last second. Driving in India may not be half the fun, but it is half of the experience.”
Watching the cars moving haphazardly through the traffic near Agra, India, I felt very thankful to have an experienced Indian driver at the steering wheel. Just looking out the window, I saw four people on a motorcycle, cows wandering beside the road and about 20 people sitting on the roof of a moving bus, since there was apparently no room inside.
India is an exotic destination, no question. It is a total culture shock to most Americans, who aren’t used to seeing cows walking down main street or giant monkey-shaped statues next to places of worship. I was clearly out of my comfort zone, and I loved every minute of it.
I tried to soak up everything about the fascinating country while I was there. I shopped at a local market, tried flavorful menu options and even danced in a wedding procession outside my hotel.
I hate to think of all the fun memories I would have lost if I had felt too fearful of the unknown to go. People who know little about current events told me that it’s too dangerous to go to countries like India. I received similar warnings about Israel, Jordan and Mexico, and had extremely safe and culturally profound experiences in each of those countries.
Choosing the more alien destinations over the familiar favorites can end up being a worthwhile decision. Sure you can always go to your favorite beach for relaxation, but it shouldn’t be the only traveling you do. Travel to exotic destinations can teach you not only about those places but also about yourself and your culture by comparison.
Always encourage yourself to try new destinations, even if you may feel uneasy about it at first. The security of traveling with a group can help people explore regions of the world they wouldn’t have dreamed of going on their own. In the end, I always have the fondest memories for the more adventurous trips like the one to India.
The traffic in my hometown was oddly quiet once I returned.
19. September 2011 22:58
I took a moment to catch my breath. The gigantic sand dune kept going straight up into the air and down below me the people were already looking like Polly Pocket dolls. But it was the challenge of the Wadi Rum desert that kept me climbing the sand dune. I figured Lawrence of Arabia hadn’t given up when he had crossed this desert to attack Aquaba for the Arab Revolt, so I wouldn’t stop climbing.
Once I reached the top, the view was worth it. The towering rock cliffs and wavy sand seemed to go on forever. With no vegetation or signs of civilization, it really made me wonder how Bedouins have lived in Wadi Rum for centuries. The preservation of water surely took on a new meaning here in the middle of the harsh, but magnificent desert. As I listened to my voice bounce around the desert canyons, I realized T. E. Lawrence had summed the place up well by calling it "vast, echoing and godlike."
When it was time to descend, the few who had made it to the overlook decided it was best to run back down the vertical sand dune. After seeing someone wipeout halfway down in a cloud of sand, I tempered my speed to a gentle gallop and enjoyed the freedom of the sand on my feet and the feeling of letting gravity do most of the work to get me back to the desert floor.
That evening at the Bedouin-style camp was truly remarkable and unforgettable. At the camp, I wasn’t just learning about Bedouin tradition, but living it. I watched as the camp staff dug up our dinner that had been cooking deep in the sand’s heat. The cuisine enjoyed in front of the campfire tasted better than many meals I’ve had in fancy restaurants. As the evening went on, the camp staff sang traditional Arabic songs and invited our group to dance around the fire with them in light-hearted fellowship. I wound down my evening by admiring the billions of stars visible in the middle of the desert.
After this memorable experience, I spent the last days of my tour enjoying Jordan’s Red Sea and Dead Sea beaches. In the Red Sea, the focus was on the colorful marine life that lived below the bright blue water. So many fish of every shape, size and color made it seem like God had been playing with crayons when he created this coral reef.
My last day at the Dead Sea focused on the water itself, since the 27% salt content of the Dead Sea makes it impossible to sink. I bobbed up and down in the water like a cork before trying out the skin-softening mud bath. The great variety of sites I saw in just these last days more than proved Jordan’s marvelous variety of top quality attractions. Already, I’m looking forward to returning one day to the peaceful and welcoming country.
17. September 2011 19:12
After a walk through a shadowy, narrow gorge in the desert, a light appears through the sandstone mountain slits. There is where I got my first glimpse of the iconic Treasury. The elaborate tomb’s façade was carved by the mysterious Nabateans between 100 B.C. and 200 A.D. This iconic structure is reason enough for many people to journey to Jordan.
I tried to imagine Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt’s glee when he beheld the towering tomb for the first time in 1812. Prior to his discovery, Petra lay unknown to Europeans, since it was guarded by the locals who believed the place held a legendary treasure. This myth that the Treasury building was anything more than a tomb proved to be untrue. However, what the locals eventually came to realize after Burckhardt spread the word about a lost city carved into sandstone was that the treasure was there all along. People began traveling in droves to see the expansive ruins of Petra, which helped out the local economy more than anything else.
But the Treasury is just one of hundreds of decorative tombs influenced by Greek architecture. The Nabateans valued the afterlife over the current life, so even those not wealthy could sometimes afford a carved tomb into the mountains.
The ruins of Petra seemed to keep going on and on as I toured the UNESCO World Heritage Site. I could easily see why this incredible city was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Swirls of vivid red, yellow and orange stone decorated the ruins better than any paint could have.
After lunch in Petra, I climbed up 800 or so steps to see the Monastery. This elaborate tomb impressed me even more than the others from its remoteness at the top of a mountain with views of Petra all around.
That evening, I sat down to a traditional Jordanian dinner that I had cooked myself (with a little help of course) at Petra Kitchen. Even now, I’m looking forward to attempting that meal’s delicious recipes for my husband. I’ll consider it a success if the food is even half as good.
14. September 2011 00:48
Almost 2,000 years ago, John the Baptist baptized a man in the Jordan River who would change the world. I got to walk on the hallowed ground where this miracle occurred at Bethany-Beyond-Jordan. It is easy to picture this event, since the area has the same desert look that it had during the time of Jesus.
I basked in the peacefulness and authenticity of the site as I walked from John the Baptist's cave to Byzantine church ruins to the actual spot where archeologists have determined Jesus was baptized. It felt like I might see John the Baptist in his desert garbs and wild hair around any corner. Even the wild berries he lived on were hanging from bushes all over the site.
A little down river where baptisms often take place, I had the song “As I went down to the river to pray” playing in my head. I stood for a few moments and soaked up the quiet movement of the wind through the river’s reeds. It almost seemed like the plants were quietly whispering long-remembered secrets.
Later that day, I visited another Biblical site at Mount Nebo. The story of Moses looking over the promised land, but being unable to go because of one mistake always seemed unfair to me. It’s not as if his followers' faith remained solid as a rock throughout their 40 years in the desert. However, when I actually beheld the view from the top of Mount Nebo, the spectacular site of the Dead Sea and surrounding mountains felt more hopeful and inspiring than anything else.
Mount Nebo where Moses died
St. George Greek Orthodox Church
12. September 2011 09:10
You might not think of Hercules when you think of Jordan. However, Hercules once stood atop the Citadel Hill in Jordan’s capital, Amman, during the Roman times. All that’s left of the once giant statue is little more than a piece of the hand, but that is enough to imagine the statue‘s former grandeur. Walking through the Stone Age, Roman, Byzantine and Muslim ruins, it is easy to see why this hill was occupied throughout Jordan’s history. The fantastic view reveals the seven hills of Amman and all its sprawling glory.
This city was my first introduction into Jordanian culture. Already, I have been amazed by the amount of archeological ruins that have survived the centuries. In Umm Qais (located in northern Jordan), the Roman city had been so well-preserved that the chariot dents into the stone streets were still present. This preserved archeological site featured rows of standing columns, shops from Roman streets and a view of Syria and Israel. The Golan Heights glowed next to the Sea of Galilee located in the valley below Umm Qais.
Nearby, Jerash is another Roman city which has even more remarkable remains, including a chariot racing arena, main street, Temple of Artemis and a large theater with seats so high, it almost made me dizzy to look straight down at the stage.
Even more moving is learning about the modern Jordanian life. Religion plays a huge part of the culture, which I have explored with a Baptist service, Melkite Catholic mass and a tour of a enormous Mosque whose dome covered the entire interior of the structure. The most inspiring part is the religious peace and tolerance that Jordan has maintained despite it’s location in a sometimes violent Middle East. One can only hope that other Middle Eastern countries can learn by their example in interfaith coexistence.
Umm Qais with the Golon Heights in the backdrop
Mosque in Amman