LandLopers http://landlopers.com Fri, 27 Mar 2015 10:51:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 In The Still Of The Night: A Photo Serieshttp://landlopers.com/2015/03/26/night-photo http://landlopers.com/2015/03/26/night-photo#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 04:57:01 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=29570 This week the FriFotos theme is NIGHT, something I don’t often photograph. I have managed to pull out my camera a few times though as the moon and stars made … Read More

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This week the FriFotos theme is NIGHT, something I don’t often photograph. I have managed to pull out my camera a few times though as the moon and stars made their evening appearance, including these night photos I’ve captured on my travels.

Alta Norway

Norway

Petra, Jordan

Brussels Christmas

Brussels

Eiffel Tower Paris

Paris

Perth Australia fireworks

Perth, Australia

Marrakech Night Market

Marrakech

Bologna

Bologna, Italy

New Orleans Luna Fete

New Orleans

Nuremberg Germany

Nuremberg Germany

Desert camp in Jordan

Bordeaux, France

Bordeaux, France

Ritz Carlton Tokyo

Tokyo, Japan

Willemstad Curacao

Curacao

Taipei, Taiwan

Vienna Austria

Vienna

More Northern Lights

 

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My Favorite Hikes And Walks Around The World (So Far)http://landlopers.com/2015/03/25/hikes-and-walks http://landlopers.com/2015/03/25/hikes-and-walks#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 04:56:11 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=29559 It’s funny, at home I fall into a set routine and honestly don’t deviate from it that much. That routine almost never includes hikes and walks; I use my car … Read More

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lanai valley

It’s funny, at home I fall into a set routine and honestly don’t deviate from it that much. That routine almost never includes hikes and walks; I use my car as often as I can. When I travel though, something changes. A part of my personality reemerges from its hibernation, an active part, a part of me that loves to get out and not just see the world, but to be a part of it. So that’s probably why I find myself on so very many hikes and walks whenever I travel, from light city escapades to more daunting, day-long efforts. I wanted to highlight a few of my favorite hiking and walking experiences because I know many of you agree with me when I say there is no better way to enjoy the beauty of a new place than to get out and to use all of your senses to capture it forever.

Lanai, Hawaii

Located on the tiny Hawaiian island of Lanai, the Koloiki Ridge Trail is a five-mile hike along the island’s beautiful highlands area. Although it’s small, the terrain on Lanai is remarkably diverse, from those sandy beaches we all dream about to mountainous ridges, complete with beautiful pine trees. It was the latter that I found myself in as I hiked the Koloiki, trudging through primordial forests and along the spines of the lush mountains themselves. Along the way I was lucky enough to spot the elusive mouflon, a skittish mountain goat that now calls the island home. The star of the attraction and the main reason for taking the hike though was the view of the Naio and Maunalei Gulches as you approach the ocean. I love Lanai for a lot of reasons, but principally because it is such a quiet place. Looking out across the gulches there was nothing but beautiful nature for as far as the eye could see, like giant green dragons sleeping next to the sea. It’s not the only reason why you should visit this amazing island, but it is a highlight of any trip.

Antarctica hike

Antarctica

Before traveling to Antarctica, I had no idea that it’s a big hiking destination, but after a few days the comforting burn in my calves confirmed that fact. Some aren’t much more than nice walks, but a few are full on, sweaty hikes including one that took me up a mountain in search of penguins and jaw-dropping views. Orne Island is one of a thousand small enclaves along the Antarctic Peninsula, not immediately more recognizable than any of the others. But it was in the island’s harbor where our ship dropped anchor one morning and it was the peak of the island that promised a wonderful adventure. Traversing a steep, switchback path up through snow and ice, the hike was no easy feat, especially under a few layers of clothes. I slipped, I fell but I always got back up with my eye on the prize above. Once there, the effort was worth it, as it always is. Looking out across the icy waters it finally hit me that I was on the bottom of the world, I was in Antarctica. The scale was enormous, people looked like mere specks amongst the canvas of white. We weren’t alone though, also resting on the mountaintop were penguins, thousands of them. This colony called Orne Island home, trekking to and from the waters below to get food to feed their hatchlings. Sitting there on a rock, drinking some water and watching as a penguin walked a foot away, not at all caring about my presence was a special moment – one I know I’ll always remember and proof that the hike was worth every grunt, groan and drop of sweat.

Jonkershoek Nature Reserve South Africa

Stellenbosch, South Africa

Unless you’re South African, and probably not even all that familiar to them, then chances are you’ve never heard of the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve. But you need to add it to your outdoors exploration list, along with a visit to beautiful Stellenbosch. More known for its wines and creative food scene, the Stellenbosch region has a lot to offer outdoor enthusiasts including many amazing hikes and walks. Part of the UNESCO recognized Cape Floral Region Protected Area, Jonkershoek is incomprehensibly ancient and features mountains with green, velvety folds that line the reserve. We were utterly alone as we started along the trail, navigating large rocks and scraggly outcroppings along the way. About mid-way through I realized that I was focusing too much on my next step so as not to trip and decided to stop and just soak in the atmosphere. I lost my breath as the natural scene unfolded around me. It was gorgeous, shockingly so and not for the first time I wondered why every visitor doesn’t include a Jonkershoek stop on their trip.

Dinosaur Provincial Park Alberta Canada

Alberta, Canada

One of the best destinations in the world for outdoors experiences, my favorite place (so far) in Alberta is without a doubt Dinosaur Provincial Park. Located about 48 kilometers from the nearest town, Brooks (population 13,000), and close to any number of small villages, Dinosaur Provincial Park is not a place one chances upon. This UNESCO World Heritage Site may not be an urban site, but that is part of its charm. Calling the Canadian Badlands home, the Park includes nearly 20,000 acres of stunning badlands terrain and hiding just beneath the soil those oh so famous dinosaur fossils. The park does a great job offering visitors a variety of experiences, including the Centrosaurus Quarry Hike. This 3-kilometer hike begins in the middle of the sprawling park and a knowledgeable ranger leads the way through the scrub. Along the way visitors learn more about the process that led to the huge number of fossils now found in the area, as well as some recent discoveries that have helped the world better understand both dinosaurs and the era in which they lived. More than anything, I was surprised by the barren beauty of the park itself. The Badlands are called that for a reason and while they may be inhospitable, they have a certain desert charm and appeal. I loved them and personally, that was as much fun as was seeing fossils stuck in the dirt.

Alta Norway

Alta, Norway

Traveling to Northern Norway in winter may not be everyone’s idea of a vacation, but I loved every second of it. There’s a lot to be said for visiting places when they’re at their best and for Alta, that’s definitely the winter. I enjoyed many active experiences up there, but a favorite was something that frankly surprised me, snowshoeing. I’d never tried it before and the modern snowshoe is a far cry from the tennis-racket devices I had envisioned. I was out with the local tour company GLØD, the go-to provider for most experiences in Alta and under their supervision, I strapped on my shoes and went searching for the elusive moose. There are a lot of reasons to visit Alta, but for me it was being out in the virgin forests, not a person around for miles that meant the most and snowshoeing is the best way to experience that. Traipsing over knee-deep snow, the shoes did their job and while walking in them was a little awkward at first, they worked and trekking along the trails couldn’t have been easier. We never did find that moose, but it was enough for me to just be out there, breathing the crisp Nordic air and enjoying the moment for what it was.

Dana Biosphere Reserve Jordan

Dana Biosphere Reserve, Jordan

Jordan’s largest reserve, Dana is a common stop for tourists to Jordan, either for the beautiful views of the mountains and valleys below or for a stay at the world-famous Feynan Ecolodge. Less common are those who, like me, tackled the daunting 16-kilometer trek through the valleys, starting at the visitor’s center and ending at the Ecolodge. I enjoy hiking, but due to some physical limitations I have to be careful about what I do and don’t attempt. Had I understood all that was involved with the rigorous hike, I probably wouldn’t have even attempted it but, like all of these experiences, at the end I was thankful for having done it. An all-day trek, the trail takes intrepid hikers through valleys, up ridges and provides access to some of the most remote but beautiful areas of Jordan. You start to appreciate the beauty of the desert terrain and by the end of the hike, you feel like the night’s stay at Feynan is the best reward for all of that physical activity. This hike isn’t for everyone, but for those who enjoy premium outdoors experiences, there are few better in the world.

Where are some of your favorite hikes?

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Inside The Beautiful Oslo City Hallhttp://landlopers.com/2015/03/25/photo-oslo-city-hall http://landlopers.com/2015/03/25/photo-oslo-city-hall#comments Thu, 26 Mar 2015 04:51:31 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=29549 The post Inside The Beautiful Oslo City Hall appeared first on LandLopers.

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Oslo Norway

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Traveling To See The Postcard – Pros And Conshttp://landlopers.com/2015/03/24/traveling-to-see-the-postcard http://landlopers.com/2015/03/24/traveling-to-see-the-postcard#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 04:57:57 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=29560 I’m guilty, just like all of you. I frequently find myself flipping through calendars, staring longingly at postcards or thumbing my way through Instagram, drooling over some of the amazing … Read More

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Koh Samui

I’m guilty, just like all of you. I frequently find myself flipping through calendars, staring longingly at postcards or thumbing my way through Instagram, drooling over some of the amazing travel photos I find. Sun drenched beaches in the tropics, alabaster-white churches perched high on island cliffs and famous landmarks, all begging me to visit them. Through years of travel experience though I’ve long believed that chasing after these postcard images isn’t just sometimes a waste of time, but often it’s a disappointing and futile exercise.

Rarely what the image promises

Sadly, many of those travel photos we lust after just aren’t realistic. I recently wrote a post about Cairo, describing how some people are actually disappointed when they visit the pyramids. Not because of the mighty monuments themselves, but rather they are disappointed to see just how close Cairo is to them. They seem to think it’s a recent phenomenon, urban blight that doesn’t show up in any photos they’ve seen. The truth is that the pyramids and Cairo has always been next to each other of course, but photographers always go for the more photogenic of the two angles, leaving out the city’s buildings and instead focusing on the surrounding desert.

Photos are snapshots in time, and for those who publish calendars, guidebooks and postcards, their number one goal is to make a certain place look as amazing as possible. That means the ideal hour on the ideal day in the ideal season is chosen, a luxury you probably won’t have. What’s the trouble with this? Well, nothing unless individuals start to plan their trip around these iconic places, and lapse into what I call dream trip mode.

It’s a topic I’ve written about before, but so many people put certain trips on a pedestal so high that enjoying them is never actually possible. They consider the trip to be a dream trip, a once in a lifetime activity and if everything isn’t perfect, then it’s ruined. The problem with this is that there is no such thing as a dream trip, things always go wrong and expectations are almost never fully realized. So instead of feeling lucky to be somewhere new, that person leaves disappointed that they fell short of their dream trip goals. Postcard travel has the same effect.

Alta Norway

I spent a fair amount of time in Arctic areas this winter, and while there I met many people traveling just to see the Northern Lights, spurred on by almost fantastical images they have seen on Twitter and Instagram. They left mostly disappointed for a couple of reasons. First, most of them never saw the Northern Lights. The phenomenon is a fickle one and absolute perfect conditions have to be in place in order for them to light up the sky. Second, unless you’re seeing a particularly great display of them, they don’t look the same to the naked eye as they appear on film. The colors of the lights are automatically heightened by the photos, even without any editing, and many times the lights appear to be nothing more than strange clouds to the naked eye.

But those people had put all of their hopes into one activity, seeing the lights, and built it up in their mind to the point that they convinced themselves that the trip would be a failure without them. Never mind they were traveling through one of the most beautiful areas of the world at the same time. From personal experience, dream trip mode absolutely impacted one of my trips. Several years ago I traveled to Thailand and had booked a room at what appeared to be an idyllic resort on the island of Koh Samui. The photos of the beach and ocean on the hotel website were mesmerizing. When I arrived I agreed the setting was beautiful, but those marketing images failed to mention one important detail. Due to the location of the resort, the tide was out of the bay for most of the day and instead of the rippling waters of the Gulf of Thailand, I found myself in a beach chair next to a muddy lagoon. Not exactly the dream trip I was seeking. While I didn’t let it ruin my trip, for many others it may have done just that.

Postcard travel doesn’t have to be all bad though, and I’ve certainly been guilty of chasing those iconic shots myself. Turns out, there are some instances when postcard travel isn’t just acceptable, but it makes the trip so much more enjoyable.

Santorini, Greece

BUT…

There’s always a ‘but,’ isn’t there? While many photographers take advantage of angles and times of day to deliver that sufficiently drool-worthy photo, there are frankly some places around the world that live up to their promise. Santorini, that oft photographed Greek island with the whitewashed, blue domed churches is the first that comes to mind. Yes, the views really are that spectacular and better yet, most of the island is just that beautiful. That’s the real beauty of these famous spots, it’s where you end up in the pursuit that makes it all worthwhile. Sure, those 90 seconds you spent taking photos of the cliff in Santorini were great, but even better was that delicious lunch of Greek mezze you enjoyed, or that tiny cafe perched high above the water where you and your loved one sipped a glass of wine while watching the spectacular sunset. It’s the overall beauty of the destination that we travel for and not just to capture a silly picture.

REYKJAVIK ICELAND

Make your own postcards

Even better than having other people dictate to us what is and isn’t beautiful or what travel sights are and aren’t worth it, make your own postcards; design your own personal travel calendar. Some of the best travel experiences I’ve had have been in the pursuit of certain photos, and not necessarily the photos themselves. When I was in Singapore many years ago, I was determined to find the Merlion, a statue spitting water that is the mythical mascot of the city. Massive construction was underway though and I got lost, very lost. At one point my partner and I found ourselves inside a mall, that’s how lost we were. But to this day I remember that afternoon wandering around the city, discovering parts of it I would never have seen otherwise all in pursuit of that silly statue. The journey was more important than the destination, as is so often the case.

More recently in Reykjavik, I had seen a photo of the Sun Voyager statue on the back of my guidebook. It looked beautiful and I knew I wanted to capture the same photo to share on my site. Once again dragging my partner along with me, this time in freezing Icelandic temperatures instead of the Singaporean heat, we wandered up and down the waterfront but we just couldn’t find it. I was perplexed, the map indicated we were at the right spot and yet no statue. So we decided to go higher up. Trekking to the top of the Hallgrímskirkja Church, we enjoyed an amazing 360 view of the Reykjavik downtown. I almost didn’t go up and in the process I would have missed one of my favorite views of the trip. From high on top of the church the city laid itself out in a beautiful quilt of colors and architectural styles. I had no idea the city was so colorful, and it made me appreciate it that much more. I also spied the statue from up there, which we did eventually find. While I’m happy with the photos, the journey was a lot more fun and I made my own postcards in the process.

Travel is an inherently personal activity. It’s great to get tips and advice from other people, but don’t let those words define your own travel experience. You have to make it your own, you have to bend it to your own interests and desires. You’ll never have as much fun living out someone else’s dream trip as you will living your own.

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Ranchlands That Go On Forever In Albertahttp://landlopers.com/2015/03/24/ranchland-alberta-photo http://landlopers.com/2015/03/24/ranchland-alberta-photo#comments Wed, 25 Mar 2015 04:51:27 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=29555 The post Ranchlands That Go On Forever In Alberta appeared first on LandLopers.

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Alberta Canada

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Avoid The Pizza: My Thoughts About Food In Norwayhttp://landlopers.com/2015/03/23/food-in-norway http://landlopers.com/2015/03/23/food-in-norway#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2015 04:56:55 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=29547 I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from the food before my first visit to Norway. As someone who doesn’t eat fish or seafood, I’m always a little worried when … Read More

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cinnamon rolls Norway

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from the food before my first visit to Norway. As someone who doesn’t eat fish or seafood, I’m always a little worried when visiting countries that are famous for their love of all things aquatic and I really didn’t want to be stuck ordering the obligatory chicken dishes from restaurant menus. As I quickly learned though, food in Norway is about much more than shrimp and herring. It’s complicated, from the cities to the rural cafes and on the whole not as bad as I had feared. After a week I learned a lot about food in Norway, including these takeaways I thought I’d share.

Yes, food is pricey

Norway is often listed as one of the most livable countries in the world, but it’s also listed as one of the most expensive. Creating a Scandinavian utopia doesn’t come cheap, and prices for everything – including food – often come as a shock to first-time visitors. On a tour of the city, I started asking my guide questions about the hefty prices and she shared a tip that seemed bizarre at the time, but which later made a lot of sense. “Never sit down to eat pizza here in Norway, it’s the same price as a Michelin star restaurant.” Yup, and she wasn’t far off the mark with that seemingly incongruous remark. The reason for the high prices has nothing to do with the ingredients, but rather the labor costs. Restaurants must meet certain wage minimums which means the chef at the pizzeria makes almost as much as that fine-dining chef. The result is that the higher labor costs are in turn passed down to the consumer. I decided to test that when I was in Alta., Norway. I didn’t eat in the restaurant, I ordered a small pizza for take away but the cost of that innocent little pizza was almost $30. It tasted good though. Norwegians think that eating out is expensive too; the high prices don’t just affect tourists. Because of this a culture of quick light bites has developed, one that I didn’t expect but came to really enjoy.

Food halls and hot dogs

One way the average Norwegian combats high food costs is by eating a lighter lunch than some people around the world may be used to. A light lunch is normal, followed by a larger dinner at home or, sometimes, at a restaurant. More traditional Norwegian fare is quickly disappearing from the capital city, but there are a few places where you can still enjoy a classic open-faced sandwich. The most famous is the Grande Café, which has been serving up these light lunches for more than a century. For a more traditional take on the light lunch, the many food halls spread around town offer a little bit of everything. A cross between a market and a food court, the few I visited offered a little something for everyone, but more than dry sandwiches a lot of the cafes and small restaurants offer up creative and interesting lunch options. While at the Mathallen Vulkan, I opted for a French inspired meal of pulled duck breast served in a massive baguette with some Dijon mustard. If you’re really short on time and money, there are even more options for a lunchtime repast. The ubiquitous Deli de Luca is a fancified convenience store that also features a wide range of sandwiches and other light, takeaway meals. But nothing beats the frankfurter, giant sausages many pick up as a snack or lunch and which can be found everywhere, from small stands to convenience stores and even airports.

Coffee and pastries

I was disappointed to learn that unlike their Swedish neighbors, Norwegians don’t have a tradition of fika or afternoon coffee, snacks and socializing. That doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy a strong cup of coffee, they certainly do and it’s this coffee culture that I came to appreciate more than any other foodie tradition during my stay there. Maybe it’s the cold temperatures and dark winters, but coffee isn’t just a convenience in Norway, it’s an art form. Nowhere is that better seen than at Solberg & Hansen, Oslo’s oldest coffee roasting company. Their small café at the Mathallen Vulkan is a concept store, where they highlight their exceptional roasts, blends and the final brews. It felt like being in a science lab as I watched them brew each individual cup, taking great care and effort to produce the finest cup of coffee imaginable. It’s a great place not just for some good coffee, but to learn a lot about the roasting process as well.

As a strong supporter of the pastry arts around the world, walking through a market and discovering Kanelbolle for the first time was a revelation. Cheap by Norwegian standards – $2 or $3 for 1 – the Norwegian cinnamon rolls are large enough to be shared, although that’s more a theory than an actual practice. Surprisingly, I didn’t see a lot of variation on them around the country, maybe a little icing here and there but in general it was the plain versions I found most often. Although I couldn’t find a robust “Let’s spend a couple of hours talking while drinking coffee and eating cakes” culture, I did find something else I didn’t expect, a robust tradition of light-lunch.

Light lunch

The Spanish include a jug of wine during theirs and the French like a few courses at their mid-day meal, but in Norway I instead found a commitment to keeping things quick and easy, especially in Oslo. Both at the Grand Café and the nearby Kaffistova restaurant, you can find old-fashioned Norwegian style lunch fare. The food consists of small, open-faced sandwiches, potato dumplings, dried and salted cod, sour cream porridge and other sides and desserts, but it’s more about the style of eating than the food itself. Sure, people around the city flock to Kaffistova for a taste of Grandma’s cooking, but it’s also a very traditional Norwegian style cafeteria, the kind you’d find around town a half century ago. While the physical location of where they eat has evolved, the fact is that the noonday meal in Norway just isn’t that important. A sandwich, small bowl of curry or yes, even an open-faced sandwich all on the go, to be eaten over a short 30-minute lunch break. (I don’t think that would go over very well in Spain.) It’s not an urban conceit either, when I was far north in the small town of Alta, I experienced the same inclination to avoid lunch as I did in Oslo. Walking through a small street fair, the food on offer included small dishes, soups and stews and of course those open-faced sandwiches again.

A light breakfast and lunch followed by a larger dinner, it’s also not a bad course of action for tourists to take. It keeps food costs down and gives you more time to be out and about. It was also something to which I could relate, it’s how I eat at home and instead of sitting down to long and boring lunches, something I detest, I followed my Norwegian friends in grabbing small bites on the go, not wanting to waste time.

Traditional fare and modern twists

Norway and particularly Oslo is like the rest of Europe, which means that sure, traditional food can be found but it’s not what people eat on a daily basis. Businessmen on lunch breaks in the capital aren’t usually eating reindeer kabobs. Day to day eats are globally influenced and the best restaurants in the country aren’t necessarily inspired by Norwegian food traditions. But you can certainly find those foods and from my own experience, they’re delicious. If you are a longtime reader than you know I don’t eat seafood, but I found plenty of non-fishy meals everywhere I went.

In Oslo, one restaurant in particular is doing a great job of marrying tradition with innovation. Grilleriet, as the name implies, specializes in grilling, a summer pastime particularly beloved by Oslo residents. More than throwing a steak on the Weber though, the food at Grilleriet is complex and delicious. During my 4-course dinner experience, I sampled homemade charcuterie served with delicate purées and jams and a venison sirloin that was the best main course I had on my trip. While in no way classically Norwegian, the dessert blew me away and was without a doubt one of the best I’ve ever had. A homemade version of a frozen snickers bar paired with popcorn ice cream was a fantastic mix of sweet and salty and is something I’m still thinking about.

It wasn’t until I visited Alta in the north of Norway that I found more of the foods one would call traditional. Reindeer in nearly every form imaginable, from gyros to well-prepared steaks, became my go-to dining option. I thought at first it would be too gamey, but unlike elk or venison the reindeer had a certain steak quality to it and I enjoyed it, as long as I didn’t think about Santa Claus at the same time. Those open-faced sandwiches also made another appearance and they really can take any form, from cured meats to shrimp and their smaller size makes them easy to eat and convenient. But even in Alta, where the food options are admittedly limited, the popular restaurants in town were pizza and Chinese food, not those reindeer gyros.

Overall, I was somewhat surprised that I 1) found a distinctive Norwegian food tradition and that 2) I enjoyed it. I had feared jars of pickled herring and other inedible delicacies, forcing me to lackluster options. But no, I never had an issue with the food in Norway and there were several things I started to seek out like those amazing cinnamon rolls or the classic Freia chocolate bars, one of the best in the world. But it was also a good reminder for me NOT to force outdated stereotypes on countries. Just like the average Austrian doesn’t eat schnitzel every day, the average Norwegian switches things up, from any kind of global cuisine you can imagine, including that pricey pizza, to stews and meats classically prepared with love by Grandma on the weekends. In other words, they’re like everyone else.

So when you visit, try the pastries and the coffees and the reindeer gyros are surprisingly good, but don’t feel bad if you opt for Thai or even a pizza a few times, it just means that you’re starting to fit in with everyone else.

Have you been to Norway? What did you think about the food?

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Sky High Views Of The Valleys Surrounding San Marinohttp://landlopers.com/2015/03/23/valley-san-marino http://landlopers.com/2015/03/23/valley-san-marino#comments Tue, 24 Mar 2015 04:51:08 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=29553 The post Sky High Views Of The Valleys Surrounding San Marino appeared first on LandLopers.

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San Marino

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Gozo: Where It Is And Why You Should Visithttp://landlopers.com/2015/03/22/gozo http://landlopers.com/2015/03/22/gozo#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 04:56:38 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=29557 Before last year, I had never heard of Gozo before, and I would venture to guess that there are millions out there like me. Gozo is one of the islands … Read More

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Gozo Malta

Before last year, I had never heard of Gozo before, and I would venture to guess that there are millions out there like me. Gozo is one of the islands of Malta, a small nation in the Mediterranean south of Italy. While a trip to Malta had long been on my imaginary, non-bucket bucket list, Gozo was new to me and I honestly didn’t know what to expect before first setting foot on the second largest island of the archipelago. After a few days of calling the island home though, I got to know it and after much reflection, I think I can offer some reasons why you should add this somewhat unlikely location to your own non-bucket, bucket list.

Malta is an archipelago, which means it’s a series of islands. The largest is, predictably, Malta, but coming in at a close second is Gozo. I know, the name sounds made up – like a Muppets character gone awry – but you’ll get used to that on Malta, the language is a strange amalgam of Arabic, Italian, English and who knows what else. Within the country and even around Europe, Gozo is known as a quiet place, a destination designed for not doing much of anything. In fact, many Maltese have vacation homes on Gozo, to escape the hustle and bustle of Valletta I guess.

It’s also easy to reach, most get there by taking the short ferry ride from Malta, the terminal for which is about 45 minutes from the capital city of Valletta. If you’re traveling on your own, you’ll need to do your own research to figure out the somewhat confusing public transportation system, or you can just hire one of the very expensive cabs found on the island. While it is ideal to rent a car in my opinion, especially if you want to explore Gozo, you’ll have to learn how to deal with Maltese traffic and drivers, which fall on the driving spectrum somewhere between Crazy and Absolutely Manic. Once you get there though you won’t regret some of the small hassles, because Gozo delivers on all of its travel promises and then some.

Things to keep in mind

Pace of life – Since we’re talking about a group of islands, Mediterranean ones at that, I should’ve realized that the pace of things was going to be a little slower than I am used to. But even I couldn’t have been prepared for just how laid back the Maltese are. As a Type A American, I met my match with a culture that places emphasis on not worrying very much and tackling things when they need to. Sounds logical I know, but it took me a few days to fall into this slower pace of life. The best thing to do is to just accept it and go with the flow. Understand that some things may take a little longer than normal and learn to be ok with that.

Eat everything and talk to everyone – This is great advice no matter where you go, but it was especially beneficial to me on Malta. The history of the islands is honestly a fascinating one, and the various waves of migration and colonization have created a culture that is without parallel in the world; from its language down to the food. Most of the food you’ll find around Malta won’t seem that strange. Lots of Italian influence means some of those classic meals you enjoy in Italy can be found on the islands as well. But there is a rich tradition of farming and agriculture, especially on Gozo, so also expect to find lots of delicious, locally prepared dishes. My favorite Maltese food was homemade ravioli stuffed with goat cheese prepared earlier in the day. It doesn’t get any fresher than that and the reward was a sumptuous meal prepared with care and finesse. The Maltese are proud, especially of their food, so don’t forget to learn more about the culture through your stomach.

Gozo Malta

Exploration ideas

Swimming in the crystal blue waters – More than anything else, Gozo is probably best known for the beautiful waters that surround it. The most popular attraction is actually on the nearby and smaller island of Comino – the Blue Lagoon. Not to be confused with its Icelandic namesake, this lagoon is actually a real lagoon and the azure blue waters are some of the most inviting you’ll ever see. The best way to explore the grottoes and swimming holes around Gozo itself is by hiring a local captain to take you out on a boat. From hidden beaches tucked away in caves, to gorgeous swimming spots, they’ll know the best places to visit. One of my favorite moments was sitting back on the boat under the warm Maltese sun, dipping my feet in the tepid water and feeling all of my stress melt away. There really is nothing quite like it.

Gozo Malta

Beautiful landscapes – Standing on top of the ancient walls of the Citadel is when it first hit me. Gozo is not your typical island getaway. Sure, the beaches are great but the interior is typically Mediterranean, which means scrubby landscapes that are honestly beautiful in their own way. I couldn’t tear my eyes from the hills and towns surrounding us and I couldn’t have known it at the time, but that was just the first of many such beautiful encounters. I fell deeper and deeper in love with Gozo’s landscapes as I saw more of this small island. From vineyards to the coastal bluffs, there’s a lot of variety and all of it is absolutely stunning. The best way to experience it for yourself is to hop in a car or on a bus and just see as much of it as you can. Luckily, Gozo isn’t very big and so experiencing the best of its unusual geology can easily be done in a single day.

Exploring Victoria – Sitting in a cafe, slowly drinking an expertly prepared espresso and watching the island walk by. Without a doubt, that simple moment was my favorite spent in Victoria, the capital city of Gozo. Also known by the local name Rabat, tourists often travel through Victoria but far too few spend time really exploring it. Reflective of the island it calls home, Victoria is not large but it doesn’t have to be, you’ll see right away what makes this city so very special. Whether it’s the views from the imposing Citadel and Basilica or just wandering along the curvy roads that reveal beautiful architecture and private moments of perfection, you’ll quickly see what makes this city and island so much fun to explore. If you’re looking for a quick bite or a cup of coffee, stop by Jubilee off the main square. Although it’s a Maltese chain of three restaurants, the food is local and delicious and the atmosphere can’t be beat.

Prehistoric past – The Maltese islands have been a popular place for a long time, and Gozo is no exception. While most visitors know about its more recent history, it’s the prehistoric past that has put the island on the global map. Seven megalithic temples found both on Malta and Gozo are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and in my personal opinion they are not to be missed. More than 5,500 years old, the temples are some of the oldest surviving religious buildings in the world and just standing there in front of the entrance to these Bronze Age marvels is an experience almost like none other. My brain struggled to grapple with the crushing weight of history that this site has witnessed, from important ceremonies at the dawn of Western Civilization to events we will never fully comprehend. More than just an important historical site, the temple complex has a certain beauty in its own right. Looking around and gazing across the nearby valleys, you can immediately see why this spot was so important to our ancient cousins and you feel like the latest iteration in a remarkable chain of continuous reverence.

Gozo Malta

Do nothing – As an active traveler I admittedly struggled when I first arrived on Gozo. I looked for activities, places to go and things to see. While the island does offer all that, it’s not why it’s so popular. As one of the most beautiful and relatively untouched islands in the Mediterranean, the best thing to do on Gozo is nothing at all. I stayed in a rented condo, locally referred to as a farmhouse stay, which is how most people visit the island. With friends or family, they rent a house or similar space, relax by the pool, cook amazing Maltese meals, drive down to the beach and that’s about it. Pace of life on Gozo is slow, and instead of fighting it, the most policy is to just give in and go with the flow. Spend a week there but act like a Gozitan, enjoy yourself, enjoy life and enjoy the experience for what it is.

Have you been to Malta or even Gozo? What did you think?

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Hazy Sunset In Budapest Hungaryhttp://landlopers.com/2015/03/22/sunset-in-budapest-hungary http://landlopers.com/2015/03/22/sunset-in-budapest-hungary#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 04:51:02 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=29551 The post Hazy Sunset In Budapest Hungary appeared first on LandLopers.

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Budapest Hungary

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Majestic Wide Open Spaces Around The Worldhttp://landlopers.com/2015/03/19/open-spaces http://landlopers.com/2015/03/19/open-spaces#comments Fri, 20 Mar 2015 04:55:48 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=29542 SPACE is the theme for FriFotos this week and since I haven’t flown with Virgin Galactic yet, I had to think of a different direction. Some of my most favorite … Read More

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SPACE is the theme for FriFotos this week and since I haven’t flown with Virgin Galactic yet, I had to think of a different direction. Some of my most favorite photos are landscapes, usually lonely places where another soul can’t be found for miles. Wide open spaces are beautiful places to explore and so today I thought I’d share a few of my favorites with you.

Alberta Canada Road

Alberta

Wadi Rum Jordan

Jordan

Alta Norway

Norway

Lake Ballard Australia

Lake Ballard, Australia

Iceland farm

Iceland

Ireland

Ireland

Gozo Malta

Malta

Overberg South Africa

Overberg, South Africa

Bilby sign Australia

Australia

hike Antarctica

Antarctica

hot air balloon napa

Napa Valley

Kruger Africa Sunset

South Africa

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