LandLopers http://landlopers.com Wed, 25 May 2016 15:05:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Great Migration in Tanzania: 5 Things You Should Knowhttp://landlopers.com/2016/05/25/great-migration http://landlopers.com/2016/05/25/great-migration#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 15:05:29 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=31209 There are a few things that visitors traveling to Africa on safari want to see and do. Finding the Big Five in the wild is certainly the most popular, but … Read More

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Great Migration Tanzania

There are a few things that visitors traveling to Africa on safari want to see and do. Finding the Big Five in the wild is certainly the most popular, but for many the Great Migration is just as important to observe in person. I didn’t fully understand what this amazing natural phenomenon was all about before my trip to Tanzania on a remarkable Abercrombie & Kent safari, but thanks to our expert guide I soon learned a lot about what is ultimately one of the great natural wonders of the world. Whether or not a safari is in your future, this is such an important natural event that I thought I’d share some of the more salient aspects that everyone should know about the Great Migration.

What is the Great Migration?

First of all, it’s important to understand that the Great Migration is an ongoing event and doesn’t really ever end. Simply put, the Great Migration is a circular grazing path determined by the availability of food. An incredible 1.4 million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebra start in the Serengeti in January where they give birth to their young. The grass is still short in this part of the Serengeti, making it safer for the newborns to stay protected from lurking predators. As the rains end, the herds move west following the rivers on their way to the Masai Mara in Kenya. In the summer the herds all arrive into Kenya, crossing crocodile infested rivers to get there. In the late fall and winter, the herds move back towards the Serengeti chasing the rainy season and the process begins again. Really it’s a yearlong search for food, water and safety and there are many opportunities for safari-goers to witness the beauty and drama of the herds along the way.

Zebra Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania

The Wildlife

The major actors on the Great Migration are the wildebeest, more than 1.4 million of them. Those of us of a certain age know these oddly beautiful animals by a different name, the gnu. No matter what you call them, if you join an Abercrombie & Kent Tanzania safari in the first few months of the year, you will see a lot of them. We traveled to the Serengeti in March, at the end of the Great Migration in the region but we were fortunate that the herds hadn’t yet left. Amongst the thousands of adults were just as many babies, most of which were still being weaned from their mothers. But wildebeests are only part of the Great Migration cast of characters, traveling along with them are hundreds of thousands of zebra – the two never really leaving each other, having created a symbiotic bond. Turns out there are reasons for this natural friendship; zebra eat the longer grasses allowing wildebeest the opportunity for the shorter grasses they prefer. Zebra are also helpful in remembering the course of the migration and are smart enough to watch out for hungry river predators. Water is vital though, which is where the wildebeest helps the zebra. They have an incredible sense of smell for water and can find a source almost every day of the Migration. But you’re out on safari, and there are many other animals to see. A number of gazelles make the migration along with the larger herds, but as the herds pass through areas of Tanzania and Kenya, they trample across lands belonging to any number of other animals from elephants to lions to leopards and cheetah, just to name a few.

If you go on safari during the Great Migration, you will see all of the animals you expect to see, in addition to witnessing this incredible natural wonder.

Best way to see the Great Migration

Call it idiotic, but part of me thought that all of the animals migrated together, all at the same time en masse. Clearly given the huge numbers of animals involved, this doesn’t happen and the reality on a safari is different from what you might expect. This is yet another reason why I’m so thankful that we traveled with Abercrombie & Kent around Tanzania. They created the modern concept of luxury safari and their more than 50 years of experience on the ground means that the guides who ushered us around know the country better than anyone else. In practical terms, this level of expertise meant we were able to see wildlife at almost every turn. The most obvious way you’ll see the Great Migration is from a safari truck. As we explored the various national parks of Tanzania, there were many moments when we saw large herds of wildebeest and zebra, grazing and ambling around, looking for the next great meal. It wasn’t until we arrived to the Serengeti though that I began to understand the massive scale of the Great Migration itself. Almost immediately our truck was forced to stop as hundreds, if not thousands, of animals ran across the road in front of us, on a primal need to move and eat. It was amazing to witness this ancient movement of animals in person, to see the basic instinct that has propelled them around the grasslands for millennia. I sort of “got” the Great Migration at that moment, but it wasn’t until I saw it from the air that it all started to sink in.

One of the best travel experiences of my life, taking a hot air balloon ride across the Serengeti as the sun rose was a singularly amazing moment in my life. We saw everything from elephants to lions and plenty of hippos, but it wasn’t until the end of the ride that the most amazing moment happened. Below us were massive herds of zebra and wildebeest, already starting their migration out of the Serengeti, eating everything they could in the process. The gentle whoosh of the hot air balloon startled them, causing them to scamper in every direction but also providing an incredible visual creating what I had imagined the Great Migration to be like. I understood then and there why so many people travel to Tanzania to see this natural wonder and why ultimately it had been on my travel bucket list for so very long.

Lodges and Camps

An important aspect of any great safari experience is where you spend the night. So much more than just a place to lay your head, tented camps and lodges are I think an integral part of safari. Since we traveled with Abercrombie & Kent, we mostly stayed at the luxurious Sanctuary Retreats tented camps; remarkable properties located in some of the most remote and beautiful parts of Tanzania. They also make the ideal base from which to explore the wildlife of the country and of course see the Great Migration. Sanctuary Retreats also has a special mobile-tented camp devoted entirely to the Great Migration, which moves as the herds move transitioning from the Western to the Northern and finally the Southern part of the Serengeti. My experience was a little different though, while in the Serengeti I called the permanent tented camp Sanctuary Kusini home, and for me it honestly was the best way to access the grasslands and wildlife of the mighty Serengeti. For a more classic hotel experience, the Four Seasons Serengeti also quickly became a personal favorite, combining the great qualities I love in any Four Seasons property with remarkable access to the wildlife of the Serengeti. Wherever you stay while on safari, don’t underestimate the importance of a great lodge or camp in your overall Great Migration experience.

Safari is about more than the Great Migration

Just as I tell people not to go on safari just to see the Big Five, the same holds true for the Great Migration. It’s a little hypocritical I realize, since I listed the Great Migration on my own personal 40 Before 40 list, but I was wrong. Instead of traveling to Tanzania just to witness what is admittedly a natural wonder, consider that a bonus to the overall experience of a great luxury African safari. Every single aspect of my trip with Abercrombie & Kent was special, from the drives themselves to those very precious moments of witnessing some of the world’s most beautiful animals in their native environment and not mine. Safari is transformative for any number of reasons, but mostly I think because it humbles us. It demonstrates to us the raw power of nature along with its resiliency. The Great Migration has been ongoing for longer than any of us realize, and the animals that call the Serengeti home put us in our place. They teach us how fleeting our own lives are, how inconsequential our problems are when put in the larger context of the world and how slow time really moves. Safari is remarkable, but it’s also important. It’s important for everyone to have their own private safari moments and to experience the true power of a transformative travel experience and how it can change us at a very profound level.

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Inside the Forbidden City, Beijing Chinahttp://landlopers.com/2016/05/25/photo-forbidden-city-china http://landlopers.com/2016/05/25/photo-forbidden-city-china#respond Wed, 25 May 2016 15:02:19 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=31201 The post Inside the Forbidden City, Beijing China appeared first on LandLopers.

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Beijing China

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Beauty of Driving the Wild Atlantic Way in North West Irelandhttp://landlopers.com/2016/05/24/wild-atlantic-way-ireland http://landlopers.com/2016/05/24/wild-atlantic-way-ireland#comments Wed, 25 May 2016 04:55:26 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=31205 Stretching for more than 1,500 miles along nearly the entire coast of Ireland, the Wild Atlantic Way is the longest coastal driving route in the world and certainly one of … Read More

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Ireland

Stretching for more than 1,500 miles along nearly the entire coast of Ireland, the Wild Atlantic Way is the longest coastal driving route in the world and certainly one of the most interesting. I first experienced part of this massive driving route a few years ago as I explored the idyllic Dingle Peninsula in the southwestern part of the country. Grassy green cliffs that fell into the crashing sea, sprawling farmlands and some of the nicest people I’ve ever met were all highlights of my short time on the Wild Atlantic Way. Those memories and the promise of new ones excited me for my most recent adventure along the driving route as I tackled the wild and wooly northwestern section of the Wild Atlantic Way, starting in Sligo, Ireland as part of a trip with Tourism Ireland.

I always have to remember to take warnings in other countries with a grain of salt. A “bit of a drive” in some countries translates to a normal day-trip from an American point of view. The drive from Dublin Airport to County Sligo in the North West wasn’t as long as I had feared – not even three hours really. One of the differences though between Ireland and the US is that most of that drive was along winding, country roads and not the sprawling multi-lane interstate I’m necessarily used to. Immediately though I knew that to be a good thing, as I sped past farms and villages, sheep and cows and those rolling green hills of Ireland that I remembered so fondly. In Ireland the drive IS part of the experience, and for that I’m grateful. It’s the best way to get to really see the country and admire those natural wonders for which she is so very famous. I was also jet-lagged and eager to get to my destination, and what a destination it was.

My goal for the week was simple, start in Sligo and drive along the Wild Atlantic Way through the Republic of Ireland and into British Northern Ireland, ending my trip in Belfast. It was all new ground for me and I couldn’t have been more excited. Some of the most iconic images we all have of Ireland come from this region of the country and to see it in person was something I’d waited a very long time to do. I plan to devote individual posts to most of these highlights, but I wanted to first share what driving the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland was really like, along with some of the many sights that make it so very special.

Strandhill Village

My first introduction to Ireland’s north west coast, Strandhill is a beautiful beach community in the shadows of Knocknarea Mountain. Here the sea is rough and while swimming isn’t allowed, it’s one of the top destinations for surfers in the country.

Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery

Just a few miles from the village of Strandhill is one of the most important ancient sites in Europe, the 6,000-year-old Carrowmore complex. It’s the largest passage tomb cemetery in Ireland and one of the most impressive found anywhere in Europe. Giant mounds still stand where people are buried who are so ancient and remote it’s almost hard to imagine what their lives were like. Thankfully much of the site has been preserved through the years and today you can wander in and around the tombs, admiring the scenery along the way.

Sligo

I fell in love with Sligo and I didn’t mean to. It was a warm, sunshiny day and the town was bustling as everyone took advantage of the early and sudden bout of summer. This is Yeats country, where the famed author is celebrated throughout the city and region. But Sligo is about much more than Yeats, and walking around the colorful streets, stopping in to look at ancient cathedrals or small museums, I found myself loving the city not because of Yeats, but because of its own inherent charm.

Slieve League Cliffs

The cliffs of the Slieve League Coast, or Sliabh Liag, are amongst the highest marine cliffs in Europe and the views from atop them are stunning, But even more fun for me was to take a boat ride out and enjoy the rocky cliffs and hidden beaches from a completely different point of view.

Glenveagh Castle

An unusual national park, driving through the rocky and gorse-strewn lands surrounding Glenveagh Castle I felt as if I had been transported to the Scottish Highlands. When I finally saw the castle for the first time that feeling was made complete, but that was the point of the original owner. Constructed in the 19th century as a hunting lodge, the wealthy owner wanted to evoke imagery from the Scottish Highlands in an attempt to lure over the British aristocracy. Today the castle, and the lakes and lands surrounding it are all a national park and a beautiful place to spend an afternoon or, if you have the time, a day or two exploring.

Letterkenny

I admittedly didn’t have a lot of time in this city, but what I saw I really liked. One of the most important cities in the region, it’s well known for the historic sights within the city as well as a jumping off point for the Wild Atlantic Way to the south and the Causeway Coast to the east. It’s also where I found a wonderful restaurant in the middle of the city’s downtown core, the Lemon Tree Restaurant. This family-operated restaurant offers up great local dishes with a refined edge. It was one of the best meals I had on the trip and I heartily recommend it.

Ireland Coast

The Drive

I spent a lot of time driving from place to place, but along the Wild Atlantic Way the drive itself is as important as any city or historic sight you see along the way. There’s just something special about learning how to navigate those narrow country lanes, especially on the left-hand side, driving past gorgeous farms, high cliffs and getting stuck behind more than one herd of cows. So many times I wanted to pull off to the side and admire the scenery, but then I would never have completed the drive. No, instead of constantly taking pictures I learned to appreciate the drive for what it was, and that became the most valued aspect of what was already an amazing travel experience.

The Wild Atlantic Way is one of the smartest concepts I’ve seen any tourism body execute anywhere in the world. I was there when the idea was just starting to gain traction and it was fun to return and see how, in just a few years, it’s become an ingrained aspect of traveling in Ireland. There’s a lot to do and see around the Emerald Isle, but using this coastal route as your guide is a fun way to explore and see areas you’d probably never find on your own.

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My Next Trip: Going Slow in Austriahttp://landlopers.com/2016/05/24/next-trip-going-slow-austria Wed, 25 May 2016 04:50:37 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=31237 Too many times when we travel it’s a race. A race to see and do as much as possible, frenetically ticking items off of a list or from a guidebook … Read More

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Wachau Austria

Too many times when we travel it’s a race. A race to see and do as much as possible, frenetically ticking items off of a list or from a guidebook instead of understanding that the true value of travel comes not from doing as much as possible, but oftentimes the exact opposite. Travel should be an opportunity to learn and explore, but also to slow down and experience a destination in a more relaxed, methodical and ultimately slower way. That’s exactly what I’m about to do this week as I travel to Austria to experience some of its many cultural and natural highlights, not as a race but as a journey.

I’ve visited Austria a couple of times, but only briefly and only the cities. This time will be different though, as I head out into nature and experience Austria instead of just seeing it.

For the next few days I will be exploring some great spots around Austria for culture, food and of course outdoor adventures. Just a few of the highlights which I’m eagerly looking forward to include:

  • Getting to know a different side of Vienna through its parks and natural retreats
  • Experiences at the elegant Schloss Hof, a castle that highlights the best of Austria’s cultural heritage.
  • Exploration of the Wachau World Heritage Trail, a 110-mile trail through the beautiful Danube Valley and Wachau wine country. (No, I’m not hiking all of it)

I can’t wait to get out in the bright sunshine, lace up my hiking boots and see more of what I already know to be a beautiful country. Add in great food and wine and learning more about the history of the country and this should be an epic adventure.

To give you just a taste of what it means to slow down, relax and soak up all that Austria has to offer, please be sure to take a peek at this amazing video put together by the creative minds over at the Story Travelers.

Austrian Time from StoryTravelers on Vimeo.

Please be sure to follow me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook starting on May 26, 2016 and follow the hashtag #AustrianTime to see all of the updates from the entire time as we all investigate different regions of the country.

This trip is a project managed by iambassador in partnership with the Austrian National Tourist Office and other sponsors. LandLopers maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. 

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Taking Another Crack At My American Travel Bucket Listhttp://landlopers.com/2016/05/23/my-american-travel-bucket-list http://landlopers.com/2016/05/23/my-american-travel-bucket-list#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 04:55:56 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=31211 I had the best intentions, honestly. When I first wrote a post about the places in my own country I wanted to visit, I meant it as a way to … Read More

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Outer Banks North Carolina

I had the best intentions, honestly. When I first wrote a post about the places in my own country I wanted to visit, I meant it as a way to take action, to get out there and see more of the U.S. I listed places I’ve wanted to visit for a long time, but for one reason or another just hadn’t made it happen. Last year I took a look at my original list and was slightly horrified to realize that I had visited none of the places in the roundup. Not good. So, in another effort to get my butt in gear I wrote a follow up post; surely then I’d start taking action and try harder to see some of the amazing places found around the country. Well, I just read through that post and it’s been yet another failure. Two posts over three years and I haven’t visited any of the places on my so-called American bucket list. I’m getting a little fed up with myself, so this is it. This is my final attempt to wake up, book a flight and get out there and explore more of my own country. Why haven’t I though? Because in all honesty, my interest has always been overseas. I love exploring new and foreign places, learning new languages and trying new foods. It’s exciting and just thinking about visiting a new country is enough to put a smile on my face. The same hasn’t been true of planning trips around America, which I guess is a little shameful of me to say, but it’s true. I’m blessed to live in a country so large and so amazing and it’s part of my duty as a good citizen to see more of it. So, with this last and final list, I hereby give myself 1 year, 365 short days to complete at least half of this list. In one year I will report back, but I really and truly hope that this time is different, that this time I really do make more of an effort to get out there and explore more of the U.S.

Alberta Canada Road

Route 66

This was the first one listed on my old post and it still holds top place in my heart. Steinbeck once called it The Mother Road and from the Dust Bowl to the American Renaissance in the 1950s, this road has held a special place not only in the hearts of Americans, but of people around the world. It hearkens back to an era when anything seemed possible, when taking to the open road was an adventure and the fun truly was in the getting there. While Route 66 technically doesn’t exist anymore, it’s still possible of course to drive huge parts of it as you meander from Chicago to the pier in Santa Monica, California. Along the way are quirky roadside attractions, strange motels and national wonders that rank amongst the top in the world. Yes, I want to see and experience all of those things but I also want to reconnect with my own country, one I love dearly and of which I am fiercely proud. Just as people did in the 1950s and 60s, I want to experience a great American road trip and to discover aspects to the American experience that I don’t even know exist.

palm tree

Key West

I’ve been to Florida scores of times and have explored much of the state, all except for Key West. The part of the state I would probably enjoy the most has been elusive for me, although it’s not from a lack of desire. The image I have of the Keys is a relaxed, slow paced part of the world firmly divided between worlds – the frenetic US and the not so frenetic Caribbean. Key West has a long history of accepting into its borders those who didn’t quite belong anywhere else, social pariahs that couldn’t seem to live in modern society found their own paradise in the Keys. That tradition has created a warm, accepting community that fits well against the tropical paradise it is so well known for. See! I know a lot about Key West, now the next step is to actually spend some time there.

Alberta Canada

The 9 Remaining States I Haven’t Visited

Well before I adopted travel as my profession, I traveled a lot around the country both for work as well as personal enjoyment. As a kid I lived in a lot of different states and my parents’ aversion to flying meant long road trips whenever we went on vacation. Through all of those travels, I was lucky enough to visit most of the country. However, I haven’t been to every state and this year I am determined to see them all. On the list are: Alaska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Kansas, Iowa, New Mexico, Nebraska and Wyoming. As you can see, most of them are situated next to each other in the northern-middle part of the country. There’s no specific reason why I haven’t visited these states, the opportunities just haven’t come up. While I’d very much like to see them all, Alaska holds a place higher up on that list than the others. There’s just something about Alaska, an allure that calls not only to me, but thousands of others from around the world. It’s America’s last outpost, our final terrestrial frontier and I’d love to spend some time exploring it.

Alaska

Speaking of which…If there’s a last great American frontier, then it is Alaska. This massive state dwarfs its nearest competitor in size and scale, even if only a relative handful of people call it home. Perhaps one of our greatest acquisitions, Alaska has come to personify escapism for many. It’s removed from the rest of the country and the shocking size and beauty of the state are unparalleled. I would love to spend some time exploring as much of Alaska as possible, from the remote towns accessible only by plane to the parks and open space that make it the stuff of legends.

Lanai

Pacific Territories

I love Hawaii and have long ached to see some other Pacific possessions, many of which most Americans don’t even realize are (sort of) part of the country. The territories in the Pacific include: American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands as well as many other reefs, islands and atolls that are dependent areas. The problem so far is that these places are all far away, small, hard to reach and expensive to do so. Still, I’m very curious about them, their cultures and how being (sort of) a part of the US has affected them – or not. This is a long-term goal, but one I hope to someday achieve.

Detroit

I know, I know, but it’s not on here for the reasons you think. In the last few years Detroit has been a favorite destination for the frequent-traveler set because they sadly wanted to participate in disaster tourism when Detroit was going through its darkest days. The city is doing much better now and I want to go because 1) I’ve never been and 2) it looks like a lovely place. A result of the economic downtown in the city is that new and creative businesses have sprung up in the most unlikely of places and I want to see them, I want to talk with the folks who live there and I want to learn more about this, one of the most iconic cities in the country.

Cascades Gorge Hike Virginia

National Parks

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, efforts were led to conserve certain areas of the nation as permanent areas of protection. In 1872, Yellowstone National Park was created as the world’s first truly national park. Over successive generations and the integral leadership of men like President Theodore Roosevelt, a new concept was introduced to the world; one that has benefited man in ways few of us truly appreciate. The North American model of conservation and wildlife management was a new and exciting concept and is one that has been replicated by countries and regions around the world. As Americans this model saved our cultural inheritance from loggers, miners and speculators and it is because of this that we can still enjoy areas of the country so special and so important that without them part of our American identity would be gone. There are now 59 national parks in the United States and many more national monuments and sites that together have saved the physical reflection of what it means to be an American from certain extinction. The national parks of the West in particular have always captured my imagination and I’m sad to say that I haven’t visited even one of them. I would love to one day see the wonders of Yellowstone, Yosemite, Zion, Arches and others to witness firsthand the remarkable natural beauty of our country and to say a silent prayer of thanks to those who toiled to make sure they still exist for me to enjoy today.

British Columbia Canada

Revisit the Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest is one of my personal favorite areas of the country and I think a great spot to visit for any first time visitor. Seattle in particular is a fantastic option because there’s so much to see and do both within the city limits and just a short drive beyond. Like any city, just walking around Seattle is part of the fun and a visit to the touristy but enjoyable Pike Place Market rewards folks with fresh fish and the original Starbucks. I love quirky museums and Seattle has plenty of those like the Experience Music Project Museum. Great daytrips include Mount Rainier, San Juan Islands and the Olympic Peninsula and once you’re back in town the food options all around town are plentiful with a little something for everyone. I think of the Pacific Northwest as America’s fun-loving, outdoorsy side and it’s an important aspect to our personality about which everyone should learn more.

What’s on your American travel bucket list?

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Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on a Sunny Morninghttp://landlopers.com/2016/05/23/lincoln-memorial-photo http://landlopers.com/2016/05/23/lincoln-memorial-photo#respond Tue, 24 May 2016 04:50:14 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=31197 The post Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on a Sunny Morning appeared first on LandLopers.

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Lincoln Memorial Washington DC

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Context Travel in Beijing & Why I Used Them As My First Introduction to the Cityhttp://landlopers.com/2016/05/22/context-travel-beijing http://landlopers.com/2016/05/22/context-travel-beijing#respond Mon, 23 May 2016 04:55:11 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=31207 Everyone is different and the way in which we travel is a very personal thing. When asked, I usually say that I’m an independent traveler, preferring to be on my … Read More

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Forbidden City Beijing China

Everyone is different and the way in which we travel is a very personal thing. When asked, I usually say that I’m an independent traveler, preferring to be on my own to figure things out. There’s nothing like being dropped in the middle of a new city, wandering around seeing the sights, sampling the local cuisine and experiencing it for the first time through all of the senses. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have some help and many times I have written about how much I love taking well done walking or day tours. Being led by local experts is a great way to obviously learn more about a new city, but it’s also a nice way to use time more efficiently. If I have a week or so to spend in a new place I’ll usually do a mix of independent sightseeing with a few well-chosen walking tours mixed in. They add to my overall experience and I enjoy taking them. But when I was in Beijing things were different and I found myself relying on these tours in a way that I don’t usually do. There was a reason for this though and my decision to rely on daylong tours turned out to be one of the smartest travel choices I’ve made in a while.

I was intimidated

My recent trip to China was sponsored by Cathay Pacific Airways, a company I’ve long worked with and for which I have a lot of admiration. I love flying with them, enjoying their service along the way and discovering new destinations. They asked me to put together a trip to demonstrate what my first experience in Mainland China would be like. I didn’t have any restrictions, and was able to put together my dream itinerary as part of their ongoing #MyChinaExperience project. Naturally, since I had never been to China before I had to start with the capital city of Beijing, knowing that I would only be able to scratch the surface of this megacity. But when I started planning things, I discovered that I was intimidated by the concept of China and that surprised me to be honest. I feel confident as a traveler almost anywhere I go, certain that I’ll be able to figure things out and get done what I need to do. But China, at least conceptually, occupied a different place in my mind. I had some outdated misconceptions about what it is like to travel in China, imagining a Communist leviathan that would be restrictive and intolerant. The language was another consideration, and I was worried about my own ability to get around Beijing quickly and efficiently. I love metro systems, but I need some sort of reference point and I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t be able to figure out the Beijing system without an interpreter or at least some help. Now that I’ve been there, I know that I was wrong about these things and more, but it was a fear before I left home. Overall, I was concerned in a way that I haven’t felt in many years and that worried me on several levels. But I also knew that, at least on that first day, I wanted someone to help me learn the process of getting around Beijing, seeing the famous sights I’ve longed to admire in person for decades.

I didn’t have much time

Time was a major concern of mine as I only had two days to explore Beijing. I know, I know, the restriction was my own though. I really only had a week to fly out to China, see and do everything I wanted to and return home. That meant making some hard choices, including spending only two days in Beijing. I knew that it would serve merely as a first introduction, a basic primer to the city so that when I return, I will have a better idea of what to see and do. Because of this very limited schedule though and my desire to see and do as much as I could, a day tour was really my only option. I didn’t want to spend half of my day getting lost (as I often do), traveling from one spot to the next without a clear concept of where I was going. I simply didn’t have the time on this trip to waste wandering around aimlessly, an activity I love doing when I have more time to spare. No, this trip needed to be surgical in its precision and because of that, a day tour was my only choice – at least in my opinion.

I love walking tours and trust the company

As I’ve already mentioned, I really enjoy a well-done walking tour and seek them out almost anywhere I go. They offer information and a level of expertise that no guidebook can replicate and which I’d never pick up on my own. Lately, I’ve become slightly obsessed with food tours, but I also love walking tours that are different, a little quirkier than the standard “follow the leader” type of experience. That’s why I decided to once again patronize a company I’ve known for a long time and whom I trust to deliver amazing experiences – Context Travel. I first used them several years ago while in Paris when I took what was at the time my first ever food tour. Being led by a local food writer, I was introduced to areas of Paris that were completely new to me, an interesting feat since at one time in my life I lived in the city. It was that tour that firmly convinced me that well-done walking tours can greatly enhance a trip, and is why I looked to them once again when I was in Beijing.

Beijing China

The tour

Context Travel is not your standard walking tour. No, their tours are either private or in very small groups and cover themes and topics that no one else does, well almost no one. They label themselves as being for the intellectually curious, and I love them because their walk topics are unusual and almost always interesting. In Beijing I had several options, but I contacted them to see if they could help me plan something special that would enable me to see the best of the city in one day; an impossible task I know. They were great, and I soon found myself joining a morning small group tour of the Forbidden City, with a brief stop beforehand to Tiananmen Square. My docent for the day was a remarkable man, an American university professor who has called Beijing home for many years and whose passion for China was evident almost immediately. The morning was spent strolling through the massive palace system, learning about its importance, architecture and even role in modern China. It was eye opening, and I know that I left the experience learning more about this important site than I would ever have picked up on my own.

Working with Context Travel beforehand, I had customized the rest of the day, and the guide from the morning then showed me around town for the rest of the day. Thankful for his fluency in the language, he introduced me to the street food folks in the city love to snack on and even took me to one of his favorite noodle houses for lunch. We then strolled temples, shrines and hutongs, traditional neighborhoods that are a big part of the fabric of every day life in Beijing. I’ll be writing in greater detail about all of these experiences, but overall the day spent with my Context Travel guide was the best possible introduction to the city that I could have hoped for.

Overall

Now that a few weeks separate me from the experience in Beijing, I can look back at my day first day in the city and objectively say that I wouldn’t change anything. Time is everything when you travel; it’s a precious commodity and that was in short supply for me while in China. I’m confident that my tour and exploration of the city with Context was the best possible use of that limited time and provided an amazing first look to the city that I know I’ll remember for a very long time.

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Rural Ireland on a Coastal Drivehttp://landlopers.com/2016/05/22/photo-ireland-drive http://landlopers.com/2016/05/22/photo-ireland-drive#respond Mon, 23 May 2016 04:50:34 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=31195 The post Rural Ireland on a Coastal Drive appeared first on LandLopers.

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Ireland Coast

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Photo Series: Places That Make Me Happy I Left My Jobhttp://landlopers.com/2016/05/19/photo-series-happy-left-job http://landlopers.com/2016/05/19/photo-series-happy-left-job#comments Fri, 20 May 2016 04:55:44 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=31176 This week I marked the 4th anniversary of that fateful day when my former 9-5 job and I finally parted ways. Although I’ve been running this web site for more … Read More

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This week I marked the 4th anniversary of that fateful day when my former 9-5 job and I finally parted ways. Although I’ve been running this web site for more than 6 years, it was only leaving my job that propelled me into the weird but rewarding world of being a professional travel blogger. Since then I’ve been blessed with many rewarding travel opportunities and while I’ve never worked harder at a job in my life, this new career I’ve created for myself has been the joy of my life. For today’s photo series I thought I’d share moments from some of the trips I’ve taken since leaving my job, always thankful for the many experiences and special moments.

Eiffel Bridge in Girona, Spain

Girona, Spain

Pipiwai Trail Maui

Pipiwai Trail, Maui

Table Mountain

Table Mountain, Cape Town

Venice Italy

Venice Italy

Eleuthera, Bahamas

Bahamas

Antarctica hike

Antarctica

 

Overberg South Africa

South Africa

Dubrovnik Old Port Croatia

Croatia

rice Taiwan

Taiwan

Ireland Cow

Ireland

Willemstad, Curacao

Willemstad, Curacao

Bilby sign Australia

Western Australia

coasteering wales

Wales

Bundestag Berlin Germany

Berlin

st pauls london UK

London

Man Mo Temple Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Angkor Thom Cambodia

Cambodia

spirit island maligne lake alberta canada

Alberta, Canada

Senglea Malta

Malta

Amman Jordan

Jordan

Budapest Hungary

Budapest Hungary

Pyramids of Egypt

Egypt

Reykjavik, Iceland

Reykjavik, Iceland

Rothenburg Germany

Rothenburg Germany

Machu Picchu Peru

Machu PIcchu

Whitsundays Queensland Australia

Queensland

Ranua Lapland Finland

Finland

Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania

Tanzania

Panda Chengdu China

China

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4 Reasons To Love The Cathay Pacific Lounge Experience in Hong Konghttp://landlopers.com/2016/05/19/cathay-pacific-lounge http://landlopers.com/2016/05/19/cathay-pacific-lounge#respond Fri, 20 May 2016 04:50:13 +0000 http://landlopers.com/?p=31187 One of my favorite aspects of traveling in premium cabins when I fly actually happens before I ever board a plane – the airline lounges. Relaxing in a peaceful environment, … Read More

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Cathay Pacific Lounge Hong Kong

One of my favorite aspects of traveling in premium cabins when I fly actually happens before I ever board a plane – the airline lounges. Relaxing in a peaceful environment, enjoying a snack or just checking email in privacy – these are all reasons to love spending time in any airline’s lounge. But not all lounges are made the same and vary widely from just OK to over-the-top experiences that make them destinations in their own right. As one of the world’s great premium airlines, Cathay Pacific has created a wonderful group of lounges in its hub airport of Hong Kong. Instead of just one, large lounge as so many airlines use, in Hong Kong Cathay Pacific has created several world-class lounges servicing different areas of the airport, making sure passengers can enjoy a high level of comfort and relaxation before their flight without racing to get to their gates in time. Over the last few years I’ve had the chance to spend time in many of the Cathay Pacific lounges, and rather than just write a description of each one I thought I’d share a few of the overarching characteristics that make them all fantastic places to decompress and provide yet another reason to love flying with Cathay Pacific Airways.

My most recent trip to Hong Kong and China was in cooperation with Cathay Pacific Airways who sponsored my trip as part of the #MyChinaExperience campaign to show how I travel to and around both Hong Kong and China.

Location

The Wing, The Pier, The Bridge, The Cabin, The Arrival; at first I thought they were secret Dharma Initiative stations from “Lost”, but in reality they’re the Cathay Pacific lounges in Hong Kong International Airport. While many airlines only have one amazing lounge at their hub airport, Cathay Pacific has diversified in order to better meet the needs of their premium travelers. Hong Kong International Airport is a large place, and by spreading out the lounges Cathay Pacific guarantees their guests the comfort of these luxurious lounges no matter where in the airport their gate may be located.

Food

This is one of the areas where the Cathay Pacific lounges truly excel and set themselves apart from many others around the world. Just as food is, I think, at the core of the Hong Kong travel experience, so it is with Cathay Pacific and their lounges all demonstrate this commitment to making sure that we’re all well fed as we travel the world. One of my first introductions to this outstanding culinary tradition was in the Business Class side of the Wing lounge, located near the security checkpoint as you enter the airport. Snacks are always available of course, but there’s also a dedicated coffee bar with freshly made pastries – a personal favorite. The real star though is the restaurant-style Noodle Bar where you can order up freshly made bowls of dan dan noodles or my choice, Hong Kong’s iconic BBQ pork buns. On the First Class side of The Wing is something truly extraordinary, a full restaurant. Not something that sort of looks like a restaurant but is really just a seating area, but a full-fledged, sit-down restaurant with menus, servers and everything else you would expect. The Haven Restaurant offers an a la carte menu, including wine pairing, that changes weekly. Western and Asian dishes are featured and there’s also a selection of traditional Hong Kong dim sum and desserts to add to your dining experience. It’s truly extraordinary and sets this lounge apart. These are but a couple of examples of the great food found throughout all of the Cathay Pacific lounges in Hong Kong.

Services

I don’t think anyone would deny the fact that the trip to Hong Kong from the US, particularly the East Coast, is a long journey. Thankfully Cathay Pacific’s amazing Business Class helped make that a comfortable and even fun experience for me, but upon arriving into Hong Kong I was thankful to have a couple of hours before my next flight to take advantage of some of the services available in the lounges. I made a direct line once again for the Wing Lounge where an attendant helped me into one of the private shower suites in the lounge. There is nothing more restorative than a hot shower and the ability to get clean, change clothes and just feel more human is a tremendous luxury in its own right. That’s one of the major perks for me found in the Cathay Pacific lounges, but of course it’s only the beginning.

Each lounge offers plenty of food and drink choices, bars and seating areas with great views, high-speed Wi-Fi access, plenty of staff members available to help with whatever needs you might have, luggage storage areas, showers, resting areas and the list goes on. The Cathay Pacific lounges have everything you could possibly need as you travel the world. For me, they’re all wonderful havens; places to set down my bag and gather my thoughts before starting the next great adventure.

Cathay Pacific First Class Lounge Hong Kong

First Class Lounges

I’ve mentioned a few of the perks available in the First Class lounges, but they’re so remarkable I wanted to devote a little more attention to them. I spent the most time in the Wing First Class Lounge, found immediately after you pass through security. Right away I felt my blood pressure drop as I walked in. The space is elegantly designed, luxurious but not fussy with colors and fabrics all meant to put stressed out travelers at ease. The exclusive Champagne bar was the first thing I noticed, a specially created feature with 6-8 different Champagnes offered – the perfect way to welcome guests to the First Class experience. Showers and even private Cabanas are also available here, giving passengers the ultimate in pampering after a long flight. The Cabanas are a quiet, private sanctuary with bath, rain shower, day bed and even working space. It doesn’t get more luxurious than that. The Haven Restaurant is dedicated to the First Class lounge and offers three different meals a day, with individual and specialized service. There’s also a dedicated bar area and even snack area, with pastries, small bites and light meals offered throughout the day. Most importantly, there is a lot of space. I went through the lounge several times and never once was it ever close to being at capacity. The result is a quiet, reflective space that feels exclusive because, well, it is.

Overall, the Cathay Pacific lounges in Hong Kong International Airport are special places. I love the fact that Cathay has 6 different lounges found throughout the airport. Too many other airlines only focus on one impressive lounge for all premium travelers, the result of which is a crowded space with diluted amenities. Since Cathay Pacific has so many options, it is rare to feel like “just another number,” and instead the service feels personalized and special. Ultimately that’s what we look for in premium travel, to be pampered for sure, but also to be recognized. That goes a long way and it’s this one-on-one service where Cathay Pacific excels.

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