Between Mountains and Desert

Travel 3 hours north of Los Angeles and experience the mountain and the desert scenery at the same time. Head to Lone Pine and Bishop, 2 small cities along the 395 Highway.

You can make a quick stop at the Red Rocks Canyon State Park.

Pass by the greenest road on your way to Cottonwood Lakes, Inyo National Forest. The scenery is far from what you can see in Los Angeles.

Make a stop at the famous Jerky place, the  Gus Really Good Fresh Jerky. I didn’t like jerky until I had beef jerky from there.

Gus Really Good Fresh Jerky

Found yourself walking on Mars when you hike White Mountain, one of the tallest peak in the US at 14,252 feet. White Mountain, also has a research station at the beginning of the trail and one small one at the peak, operated by the University of California, to evaluate the effects of altitude on physiology.

You can also hike flat in the Alabama Hills. Take a pose with the Turtle Rock and go around the arches. You can see Mt. Whitney through the Mobius Arch. The Alabama Hills was the filming location for a lot of western/cowboys movies.

Take up the challenge to hike the tallest mountain the lowest 48 US State, Mt Whitney.Mt Whitney. It’s a long 22 miles hike with a summit at 14,505 feet.

 

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Torrey Pines

La Jolla is a beautiful hilly seaside area by San Diego. It has the most scenic hike by the beach at Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. The hikes are easy and it gives you an amazing view of the Pacific Coast.

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Torrey Pines State Reserve

Take your time to explore all the trails as each of them is offering something beautiful from a viewpoint to direct access to the beach.

Follow the map.

Broken Hill overlook has the best viewpoint.

Broken Hill Trail to the Beach, as its name indicates, takes you to the beach and the Flat Rock.

 

Hike the Rock

They are saying stairs workout are the best. In that case, hiking La Piedra del Peñol is the best and most beautiful workout of your life.

El Peñón de Guatapé is a must see jewel when you go to Medellin. In the 1940s, the Colombian government declared it a National Monument. It is 2 hours away from the city and the easiest to visit it is to take a tour. I took a private tour: Land Venture Travel. It is very affordable.

The rock was first climbed officially in July 1954, when Luis Villegas, Pedro Nel Ramirez, and Ramón Díaz climbed the rock in a five-day endeavor, using sticks that were fixed against the rock’s wall. When at the top, amazed by the beautiful view, they thought of a way of allowing people to get to the top and see the view. This is how the stairs were built in the middle of the rock. Luis, Pedro, and Ramon wanted to share the beauty with the whole village.

On the way to the Piedra del Peñol, the rock of Guatapé, you can stop a few times to take pictures of the rock from far. Impressive. 

Piedra del Peñol

When you arrive at the rock, you can see all the stairs you need to take to get to the top. 740 of them! Take your time, you can do it. Make the effort to go up those stairs because the view from up there is just out of this world. The summit contains a three-story viewpoint tower, a convenience store, and a seating area. Just relax and admire the view. Peaceful.

Falling for Niagara Falls

One of the 7 natural wonders of the world, The Niagara Falls, are about 2 hours drive from Toronto.

It is said the falls from the Canadian side are more majestic than the American side. Maybe because the highest drop occurs on Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side at 173 feet (53 m).

The Falls are breathtaking. Watching close to 750,000 gallons of water a second hurtle down the curved cliffs is very very impressive.

Hear the crashing waves. See the breathtaking views. Soak up every drop of powerful spray. Take the boat, maid of the mist, to go on the Niagara River and found yourself almost in the middle of the falls.  The falls are so powerful that you will get wet even when you ride away from them. That boat ride is so much fun and a must do.

Santorini in a Hike

How to see Santorini? Take the scenic 10k hike from Fira to Oia.

Here is the map of the Hike with all the worthy stop points.

  • Start early if it’s a hot day.
  • Have plenty of water  There are no more than 2 snack shops on the way.

Start the hike in Fira, by the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral along the Caldera. You will pass by all the cafes, restaurants and little shops. Keep going up. The view gets better and better.

View Fira

You will pass by the Three Bells of Fira before arriving at the first village, Firostefani.

Firostefani

Next village is Imerovigli. Make sure to explore the small alleys, they all lead to the blue Caldera view. Make a stop at the Anastasia Church.

You can add a side trip by going to the Skaros Rock , it will add about an hour to your hike.

From there, keep hiking up, You will walk along the Caldera passing by the resorts like Cavoo. There will be no snack shops or any restaurant for a while. You will pass by beautiful churches like the Ekklisia Profilis Ilias on top of the hill. After that long stretch, you will finally get to a snack shop. Time to refuel.

You will then have to go up a hill; if there is a donkey, take it. It will save you some sweat. At the top of the hill, there is the Church of Panagia.

You can finally see Oia on the horizon. Oia is a smaller town than Fira but very charming. Explore the alleys and art galleries. Stop at the unique bookshop called Atlantis.

End the day at Amoudi Bay where everybody gathers to watch the sunset.

Oia sunset

Take the bus to get back to Fira at night.

 

 

Pinnacles National Park

The Pinnacles National Park, home of the condor, was born some 23 million years ago when volcanoes erupted. The remains of it is a unique landscape through which you can hike; rare talus caves and towering rock spires.

Leave you can at the campground and take the shuttle to the main trailhead,  The Bear Glutch Trailhead. The Condor Gulch to High Peaks Loop allows you to walk through the heart of the Pinnacles rock formations, particularly along the Steep and Narrow section of the High Peaks trail. On the way back add the Balconies Cave trail to see the lake and the caves.

From the West end of the park, you can use the Chaparral trail to see the amazing Balconies Caves. Flashlight required and be ready to truly emerge in a cave. I really thought I’m going on an expedition.  You can loop it back to the parking lot on continuing the trail to the high peaks.

 

 

 

Athens and Greek Mythology

Athens, the city of Gods, is where many myths and Greek mythological legends were born. Here are some of them as we are walking through the remains of that ancient world. Here is a guide on how to wander in Athens and relive the Greek Mythology stories in 2 days.

The name Athens is coming from Athena, the goddess of wisdom, intelligent activity, arts, and literature. Athena was the daughter of Zeus, she came out of Zeus‘ forehead. She became the city’s patron goddess after winning a contest against Poseidon. The victory came to the one who will offer the best gifts to the Athenians and Athena with her offering of the olive tree, a symbol of prosperity and peace, won and became the patron goddess.

Electra palace sunset

Day 1: Objective Acropolis

Practical advice: get a 2-day pass at one of the sites that will allow you to go to all the must-see archeological sites without having to wait in line and pay for each separately. And of course, it does come out cheaper as well.

Start your day at Syntagma Square where, every hour, you can witness the change of Evzones, a special unit of the Hellenic Army, in front of the parliament. Their old fashion guard outfit is what makes those guards unique. Other info, they are doing this for free. It is a service to the nation.

Behind the square, you have Athens beautiful and peaceful National Garden. It is a Greek heaven in a middle of a busy city. Take a morning walk through the park and when you get out from the opposite side you will found yourself in front of The Panathenaic Stadium.

The Panathenaic Stadium, which means “beautiful marble”, was built by Herodes. The stadium steps and seats are indeed made out of marble. It held the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896 and the latest one in Greece in 2004. Today, you can visit it and take a seat where the emperors used to seat. I will talk later on about Herodes, as he has other monuments dedicated to him.

Next stop, The Temple of Zeus. Tall columns and ambitious layout, the temple of Olympian Zeus reflected the height of the god of the sky and ruler of the Olympian gods. The ruins are still impressive. You can take a close look at the Doric Column, a vertical fluted column shaft, thinner at its top, with no base and a simple capital below a square abacus. It is one of the marks of Greek Architecture. The Temple was built over several centuries starting in 174 BCE and only finally completed by the Roman emperor Hadrian in 131 CE.

Hadrian was a Roman emperor from 117 to 138. As an admirer of Greece, he wanted to make Athens the cultural capital of the Empire.  Between 124 and 132 CE a monumental arch, 59ft high, Hadrian’s Arch, was built by the entrance of the temple of Zeus, in honor of his many benefactions to the city.

Hadrian Arch

From there, head to the Acropolis Museum. How amazing it is to visit a museum and have under your feet the ruins of an ancient world. The museum is filled with the ancient history statues.

Acropolis museum

Acropolis museum

Take a Break: The small streets around the museum will lead you to Plaka, where you can have lunch or do some souvenirs shopping.

Plaka stairs

You can finish the day by going to the Acropolis. Start from the bottom and make your way to The Parthenon. You will pass by:

Athens

Dionysus is the god of the grape harvest, wine, and theater in ancient Greek religion and myth. The Theater of Dionysus in Acropolis was built at the time when ‘drama’ or ‘theater’ was first being created in the late 6th Century BCE. The plays were performed during the Dionysiac festivals, as part of the cult celebrations of Dionysus.

Theatre of Dionysus

Herodes Atticus, the “patron of the arts and letters” built the amphitheater below the Parthenon in 161 AD in memory of his wife. It is one of the rare ancient constructions that is still used today; one of the best places to experience a live classical theater performance.

Herodes Atticus Odeon

Asclepius, the God of Medicine as told in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, was a physician to soldiers wounded on the battlefield at Troy. By Hippocrates’ day, he had become elevated to the status of a god. His temple, on Acropolis, was a healing temple, a place where patients would visit to receive either treatment or some sort of healing, whether it was spiritual or physical.

The Parthenon, like all temples in Greece, was designed to be seen only from the outside; no need to step inside to see the statue of Athena it once housed. As you can notice, the Greeks loved marble. When you walk around the Parthenon you will realize the floor was in marble. The best marble came from the islands of Naxos or Paros.

The Temple of Athena built in Acropolis was to honor Athena Nike, the goddess of victory and Athens’ patron goddess.

Athena

 

Day 2: Agoras

The discovery of different Greek Gods and Goddesses continue with a visit from the Ancient Agora and The Roman Forum – Agora which means market-.

Take a Break: On your way there, you will pass by Monastiraki Square. It is a colorful square with a beautiful old church. You can head to the small streets from some flea market shopping or go towards the water for relaxing at one of the cafes.

Monastiraki

Hadrian, he again ordered the construction of Hadrian’s Library that was created in AD 132 by the Ancient Agora.

 

Hephaestus was the Greek god of blacksmiths, sculptors, metallurgy, fire, and volcanoes, has his temple on top of the Roman Agora. There were numerous potters’ workshops and metal-working shops in the vicinity of the temple, as befits the temple’s honoree.

A stoa, another mark of Greek Architecture, is a long, narrow row of columns backed by a plain wall and roofed. It is often placed at right-angles to create an enclosed open space. The Stoa of Eumenes in the Roman Forum is the perfect example of it.

Stop Ancient Agora

 

Last Mythology Story:

If you go towards the port of Athens, you can take the boats to go on the Aegean Sea. The city was also the starting point for the story of Aegeus and Theseus. Aegeus was the king of Athens; When the son of King Minos of Crete was killed,  Minos waged war against Athens, emerging victorious. As punishment, Athens was forced to send young men and young women to Crete annually, in order to be sacrificed to the Minotaur, who dwelt in the labyrinth under the palace of Minos. At some point, though, Theseus, son of Aegeus, decided to go as part of the sacrifice, planning to kill the Minotaur. He was successful in his quest, but upon returning to Athens, he forgot to change his ship’s sails to white; when Aegeus saw the black sails, meaning that Theseus had died in the labyrinth, he fell into the sea, and drowned, giving his name to what now is called the Aegean Sea.

 

Istanbul in 3 days

“If one had but single glance to give the world, one should glance on Istanbul” Alphonse De La Martine

Here is how to follow La Martine in 3 days

I think the best place to stay is in the Sultan Ahmet neighborhood by all the must-see attractions. Beside Dolmabahce you can walk everywhere.

Day 1: 

Take a cab to Dolmabahce

Dolmabahce, that means filled garden, has, of course, a beautiful garden with gates that open to Bosporus. How crazy it is that you can see another continent, Asia, on the other side of the water. Take time to walk around the garden and admire the architecture of the palace. The Palace and the Harem can only be visited with a tour and no pictures can be taken. The last room of the Palace, Ceremonial Hall, with the chandelier that was offered by Queen Victoria is majestic.

 

 

From there head to Galata Tower. The tower situated on a hill will give you the perfect 360-degree view of the city. Don’t you feel like you conquered the beauty of a city when you get to view it form the above?

 

 

View from Galata Tower

From the tower take the small streets, enjoy the small shops and cafes and head to Galata Bridge. Under the bridge, you have all the fish restaurants. During lunchtime, it smells like fresh fish … so tempting.

On the other side, you have the Bosphorus tours boats. It’s a 1h30 minute ride on the Bosporus. Take the boat and you will get to see Istanbul in the best way possible. You will pass by all the monuments. Especially if you don’t have to go to all the sites this is the best way to admire the architecture of that city.

Bosphorus Boat Tour

Day 2:

Start the day by a walk at the Gulhane Park. The imperial park will lead you to Topkapi Palace and Museum. Topkapı Palace is part the Historic Areas of Istanbul, a group of sites in Istanbul that was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985. Enter the museum from the Imperial Gate. The back garden gives you a breathtaking view of the Bosphorus as it is overlooking the Golden Horn, where the Bosphorus Strait meets the Sea of Marmara. The Harem section of the museum is gorgeous. Topkapı Palace

 

 

 

After Topkapi, head to Hagia Sofia that Mosque that was a Cathedral before. You can see signs of both religions under one roof. It was a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal Basilica until 1453, later an Ottoman imperial Mosque until 1931, and now a museum.

Hagia Sophia

 

On the other side, you can see the Blue Mosque. Its official name is The Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It has five main domes, six minarets, and eight secondary domes. Impressive.

 

 

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Along the Blue Mosque, you have on one side the Hippodrome with the German Fountain, the Serpentine Column and the Obelisk of Thutmose III. Hippodrome of Constantinople was a circus that was the sporting and social center of Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire.

 the Serpentine Column and the Obelisk of Thutmose III

On the other side the Arasta Bazaar. It is a small bazaar that has great stores for souvenirs shopping especially if you love Swirling Darvish or evil eye objects.

Day 3:

Start your day at the Spice Bazaar. Enjoy the colorful alleys of that market. For shopping head to the Grand Bazaar where you can found anything you need, want or didn’t want. Wonder in the alleys, you will for sure found something to buy.

 

 

Finish your day at the Hamam for a relaxing afternoon. Enjoy the bath, the massage, and the Turkish coffee after it. One of the oldest one and most famous one is Cagaloglu Hamami by the Blue Mosque. It is truly a relaxing place.

Cagaloglu Hamami

If you have time:

  • Visit the cistern
  • Go to the Busy Taksim Square
  • Go see a Sufi Dance Session

http://www.istanbullife.org/whirling-dervish-sufi-ceremonies-in-istanbul-turkey.html

Must Eat:

  • Baklava from Hafiz Mustafa
  • Turkish Coffee
  • Try to drink Raki – 40%  alcohol!
  • Have Simit Bread

 

 

 

 

Macchu Picchu and Peru

While in Peru, make sure to take a 3-day tour to see Cusco and one of the new 7 wonders, Macchu Picchu.

A lot of company offer the same 3-day tour where you will have a chance to see beautiful Inca sites, proof of the greatness of the empire.

Cusco City, the historical capital of the Inca Empire and its Cathedral La Iglesia and Convento Santo Domingo on the main square Plaza de Armas and the Inca landmark of Qorikancha. At night, the Plaza is very lively and all the restaurants and bars are full of locals and tourists.

Right outside of the city, you will be able to see other Inca landmarks like the archeological site of Tambomachay, the citadel of Sacsaywaman, the Huayllay National Sanctuary and the village of Ollantaytambo in the sacred valley. You will stop at Mirador Taray, the place to have the best view of Cusco and the surrounding nature.

Macchu Picchu is a day trip by itself. You will take the blue train to the Macchu Picchu city called Aguas Calientes . From there, you will take a bus to the ruins. Be ready to start some walking but it is so worth it. You will soon be able to witness the breathtaking 15th Century Inca site. The scenic is just breathtaking.

 

Back in Lima, make sure to head to Downtown, The place for shopping but also to admire the old streets and some fine architecture works.

South of Italy

The Best way to see South of Italy is by Public Transportation; train, buses and boats.

I started my Italy Journey in Venice and got to Naples by Train. For the big city connections, I made all my reservations online at trainialia.com. But for the one day trips it is better to just get the ticket once at the train station. The Italian trains, frecciarossas, Red Arrows in English, are the best way to visit different cities in Italy. They are indeed as fast as an arrow.

Naples

I got to Naples by train then. Naples can seem chaotic compare to the other Italian cities like Florence; cars are double parked, everybody in honking and the streets are so narrow. But somehow, it is charming. By the train station stop eat Da Michele Pizzeria, you will have the best pizza in the world.

Da Michele Pizza
Da Michele Pizza

Naples Old Town, protected once by the walls is now a very busy charming historical center of the city full of souvenir shops, cafes and pizzerias. Make sure to have a pizza at Sorbillo, one of the most famous pizzeria in Italy. Have the local pastry called Sfogliatelle at Scaturchio café right in the heart of the historical center in front of one of the most prominent churches of Naples, San Domenico Maggiore. You can get lost in the small streets and just enjoy the different churches. If you walk towards Piazza Dante, you will pass by few bars by a square; that square gets very animated at night and it is a lively place to go after dinner and grab few drinks with locals and students. Continue your walk; you will pass by the booksellers streets. You can start seeing why Naples, despite being a big busy city, it kept its southern charm.

The other great neighborhood in Naples is the port area. Take the metro to Castel Nuovo. You can visit Castel Nuovo from where you can have a great view of the port. Stop at Piazza de Plebiscito to admire the architecture of that square with the colorful houses behind it that makes a great contrast. From there you can visit the Royal Palace. Walk down toward the port. In front of you the ocean with when the sky is clear Mt Vesuvius on the background, on the right Castel Dell’Ovo and behind, those narrow streets with, at every window, linen stretched for drying.

Last neighborhood in Naples worth going is Vomero. Take the funicular all the way up to Vomero. Skip Castel Sant’Elmo and continue your walk toward the view point. From there you will have Naples under your feet. You can now take the stairs, Scale della Pedamentina, down .The view from the above of Naples doesn’t get any better. On your way down, you will have to take Spaccanapoli the narrow straight street that literally splits Naples in 2 parts.

 

Pompeii

From Naples, there is a train every 30 minutes to Pompeii. Only one hour away from Naples, the ruins of Pompeii “provide a complete and vivid picture of society and daily life at a specific moment in the past that is without parallel anywhere in the world”. Despite the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 that destroyed a lot of the town, there are still a lot of remains of that ancient Roman civilization that show us how they used to live. As I walked  through the streets well structured, pass by the very first pedestrian crosswalks ,the houses, temples and  theaters , I could see how smart and sophisticated they were , how they were managing their city and how they gave importance to art, religion and politics. We did learn from that civilization and it is indeed important to preserve that past.

 

Amalfi Coast  

Only few hours away with train from Naples, the Amalfi Coast is formed by small villages that are clinging to the mountain. The bus ride between the villages through the very curvy road can be hard to handle for some people but the view is priceless.  The famous villages that you can go to with the SITA bus are Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi, Ravello and Salerno. Each village will dazzle you with its colorful houses, breathtaking costal view and amazing food. ‘Costiera Amalfitana is an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape, with exceptional cultural and natural scenic values resulting from its dramatic topography and historical evolution.

The train from Naples will take you to Sorrento and from there you can take the bus to go to the other villages. Then take the train back to Naples at the last village, Salerno. My favorite village is Positano so if you only have a day , spend it mostly at Positano. The bus will drop you off on top of the village. Walk down to the village; enjoy the view of that city snugged to the mountain. Stop at the Il Capitano for lunch. No other restaurant will beat that view. At the village, you can enjoy some sun at the beach or shop at the small shops in the alleys.

At Sorrento , check out the unusual  Vallone dei Mulini an old sawmill that has been abandoned and surrounded by nature and sea now. At Amalfi, admire the Amalfi Cathedral, imposing in the middle of the square or the fountain that is also a nativity display scene.

 

Capri

Take the boat to Capri form Naples Port. It is only a 50 minutes ride. You can’t see everything in 1 day in Capri so you have to choose between seeing the Blue Grotto and have a tour of the island or go to Anacapri and Capri Village.

I’ve heard so much about the Grotta Azzurra that as soon as we got to Capri main port, Marina Grande I took the island tour that also takes you to the famous cave. There is always a wait to go inside of the cave but it’s worth it. You will get on a small boat and go inside of that cave where the water is unbelievably blue.  You will get to stay in that magical place for few minutes. Take time to admire that water, your rower might start singing some old Italians songs and make the moment even more dreamlike.

You will then make a tour of the island , passing by one of the oldest Lighthouse at Punta Carena. You will then stop at Grotta Verde, a sea cave where the water seems green.  You will pass under the natural arches and the Lover Arch.

You can take the funicular to go to Capri Village. It has a main square with all the restaurants and shops around it. Take the stairs down back to the port; you will have a great view of the island on your way down.