Romantic Weekend Getaways

    Some of the most romantic weekend getaways exist in the most populated destinations in the US.  Here are a few to consider.

I’ll Take Manhattan.  You can spend a fabulous weekend in New York City and stay either at the Marriott Hotel on Broadway, for example, which is right near the Theatre District; or you can book a weekend at the Plaza Hotel overlooking Central Park. Perhaps you would like to stay at the Mandarin Hotel and Spa where you can both be pampered for the weekend. No matter what your budget is; Manhattan is more than accommodating.

Needless to say, Manhattan is considered one of the most romantic spots in the U.S.  Whether you enjoy dinner in your hotel suite or dine at any one of the five star restaurants, the night is always young for lovers who seek solitude in a city that hosts millions of tourists each year.  Whether you take a carriage ride through Central Park, enjoy an opera or symphonic performance at Lincoln Center, or walk along Fifth Avenue during the evening hours; the city offers something for everyone.

San Francisco. With its rolling hills, fantastic cuisine, and friendly people; San Francisco offers hotel stays that are sure to enhance your romantic side.  Among the most notable hotels are the Fairmont hotel, located in the Nob Hill area; the Mandarin Oriental, which is known for its best views of the Bay and the city; or the downtown W San Francisco hotel that is close to cable cars, shopping, restaurants, and theatres.

Stroll along Fisherman’s Wharf and stop by Ghirardelli Square where you can pick up some of their famous chocolate before having dinner at one of the many seafood restaurants there such as McCormick and Kuleto’s, where the panoramic view of the Bay, as well as Alcatraz island; both of which are a stunning backdrop.  You may also wish to stop by O’Neill’s Irish Pub for an after-dinner drink. You may leave your heart here after departing this great city by the Bay.

Las Vegas. Time will stand still at this resort destination.  With a myriad of hotels to choose from you can enjoy your time here without having to worry about time, because there are no clocks in the casinos.

With great weather year round (hot, but always dry), you can wile away the early morning hours at the hotel’s pool and enjoy the evening attending a fabulous show or visit lady luck at the casino.

Whether you take a stay at the Venetian Hotel and enjoy a romantic ride on a gondola; enjoy the Spa and Salon at the Hotel Bellagio; or marvel at the lush indoor gardens, aquarium, and the Secret Garden at the Mirage; Las Vegas is both affordable for any budget and is the perfect weekend romantic getaway.

Lake Placid.  Far away from the maddening crowd, you will find comfort and romance at the Mirror Lake Inn.  With gorgeous mountain and lake views, fireplace, and very large tubs, you will find the accommodations more than satisfactory.  In fact, they are quite conducive to a romantic weekend.

Among the many things you might like to do is to take a walk to the neighboring town of Lake Placid, only two miles away. Here you will find shops along Main Street and you can stop at the Cottage for lunch.  Swimming, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking are some of the activities available at Mirror Lake Inn.

The calm and quiet ambience of this Inn is the perfect weekend getaway destination for couples.

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Beach Holidays for Fun in the Sun

Everyone loves beach holidays!  The little ones can dig in the sand and splash in the lapping waves.  The older ones can swim, get a tan, or just relax.  The inquisitive types can explore for sea life, tide pools, and drift wood.  The warm breezes and natural beauty are invigorating and restorative.  Any trip, however, can cause discomfort if you do not plan well.  Here are things you can do to make your beach holidays easier, safer, and more meaningful.

In many parts of the world, people head for their beach holidays in the family car. When planning a trip, it's always a good idea to give the car a good cleaning out first. This will give you more room for your luggage.  Stock you glovebox, too, with a few first aid and comfort items, such as sunblock, acetominiphen for headaches, a roll of antacids, a few cough drops, and a few bandaids.  Don't forget a couple of scrunchies or pony-tailers for long hair. Get the tires checked and replace any that are likely to go flat.  Get an oil change if it's getting close.  Road trips are not much fun when they include breakdowns.  And whatever you do, make sure you have a map and a place to keep it handy.

Travelling with kids is always a challenge.  They may be particularly excited and impatient when they know they are going on beach holidays.  Make sure they have cool water bottles and healthy snacks to munch.  Try a simple car game to make the time pass.  Many kids like looking for letters of the alphabet on signs.  If several people get involved it can be quite fun.

With beach holidays particularly, there is always a need to provide for skin safety.  Be particularly careful about being in the sun for long stretches of time between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.  Use a sunblock with a high SPF rating and replace it after getting wet or drying off with your towel.  The towel you choose can make a difference too.  Thick towels get heavy and tend to trap a lot of sand.  You may find you like thin towels at the beach.  Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes and some sort of foot protection to keep your feet from being burned on the hot sand.

With a little preparation your beach holidays can be enjoyable and problem-free.  When you arrive home you will be relaxed, refreshed, and ready for work. Take a minute to unpack and get your laundry going.  It won't belong until the kids will be shouting, "When can we go on beach holidays again?" 
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Our last Day in this Great place

     Oh, what a day! We woke to brilliant blue skies and warm air. The latter reminded us that we were on the south coast of Iceland which is influenced by the North Atlantic Drift- a current of warm water originating off Florida as the Gulf Stream. It is what keeps northern Europe and Iceland MUCH warmer that they should be if you just look at latitude.
So today we were headed for the iconic Westmann Islands. They got their name from the fact that when the Norse came west to Iceland, they would stop off in Ireland to take slaves on their way. The "west men" were the slaves from Ireland.

Our first close look at the Westmann Islands was of Surtsey (Island of Surt). Your faithfully blogger is old enough to remember the big news of the birth of Surtsey in 1963. From the North Atlantic rose explosive columns of smoke and ash and together with the molten lava, grew quite quickly into the island we see today. Since then (only a little over 50 years ago- a geological blink of the eye) the island has been eroded somewhat by the sea and is somewhat smaller than it used to be. Perhaps it may end up as a pinnacle of hard rock sticking out of the ocean (as we saw around the islands). Remarkably Surtsey looks like it's been there for millions of years!

From Surtsey, we had great views of the mainland and the Eyjafjallajokull glacier. The volcano associated with the glacier erupted a few years ago and caused a major disruption in trans-Atlantic air traffic because of the ash put up into the air and atmosphere. Here it is to the right in this image.
As we arrived to Surtsey, we were very lucky to see a pod of Orcas (Killer Whales). Close to the Orcas was a Humpback Whale and we were pretty sure that the Orcas were hunting the whale.
After Surtsey we cruised to Home Island- Haemaey- the largest in the Westmann Island archipelago, and the most populated. We had several opportunities to see the island via bus, walking or from a small cruise boat. A strong theme on Haemaey is the eruption that occurred in 1973. This destroyed 300 houses in the town, dumped millions of tonnes of ash over the rest of the town. Houses were buried half way up the walls and the town grave yard was inundated. However, you would never know the ash had been there!
On the walking tour we climbed up the volcano that was created in the 1973 eruption (see the red mountain in this image). It was thrilling to stand on new land, only a few decades old!
In the eruption museum, one of the houses that was buried in ash has been excavated. The museum was brand new, beautifully designed and very sophisticated.
There is a tradition in the Westmann Islands for hunting puffins using a net called a fleygur as dipicted here on the side of a building.
As this is the last day of our Iceland circumnavigation, here is a commemorative image of our great Expedition Team! Hi everyone!!!

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Top 10 Best Countries To Visit in 2015

   2014 was one of the best years of my life. I had a chance to travel to so many extraordinary, uncommon and off the beaten path destinations I had always been dreaming of visitng. Now, 2015 has come and many of you probably have started planning your summer holidays. There are multiple lists about the best countries you should visit on the Internet, TV and in travel magazines. Most of them repeat the overrated and overrun by tourists places like London, Paris, etc. Some are trying to introduce some new destinations. I have prepared another list of exciting places that media don't show (most likely you didn't even know some of them existed) which, I believe, have great potential for those seeking adventure and wanting to explore something new and unknown. Watch the youtube video below or scroll down to see the list.

10. Ukraine

From top left: Swallow's Nest in Yalta, Saint Sophia's Cathedral in Kiev, Abandoned Ferris Wheel in Pripyat and Ancient Greek ruins of Chersonesus in Sevastopol

The media have shown Ukraine in bad light recently, due to the ongoing conflict with Russia. Most of the footage from Ukraine you can see on TV is gloomy, dark, deprived of colors. I, for a change want to show you the true colors of this very exotic, although being set in Europe, country. As for now, all the parts of the country (with the exception of the Eastern oblasts) are safe for independent travelers.

A few of the things the country has to offer: Ukrainian capital - Kiev is extraordinarily beautiful with its parks, squares and orthodox churches, Crimean Peninsula (now disputed territory occupied by Russia) boasts spectacular coastline, ancient Greek ruins and the Disney-like fairy tale castle "Swallow's Nest". Don't miss Chernobyl and Pripyat - the infamous site of the nuclear disaster from 1986 is now safe for visitors and offers unforgettable experience of walking through a real ghost town being slowly engulfed by nature.

9. Ireland

Ireland, although quite a well known country (mainly for the Guinness bear and Irish Pubs), still keeps some unique gems secret and few visitors to The Emerald Island know about them. And, you won't find them easily in a tourist guide. The examples: Achill Island with it's exotic looking Keem Beach, Skellig Island - "Irish Machu Picchu" with thousands of puffins posing for perfect photographs, Ben Bulben Mountain - the table mountain that gives Ireland really outlandish feeling, the beautiful coastline and cliffs right beside Dublin, and much more.

8. Jordan

From top left: The Treasury Monument in Petra, Salt Deposits at Dead Sea, Columns in Jerash and Wadi Rum Desert

Jordan is a very safe country to visit in the Middle East. Apart from the magnificent, carved in sheer rock by the Nabataeans monument Petra, it boasts magnificent, extremely well preserved ancient Roman ruins in Jerash and Amman (forget Rome!), the lowest point on Earth at the saltiest of the world's lakes - Dead Sea, covered with red sand Wadi Rum desert and the historically significant Holy Land.

7. Armenia

From top left: Garni Temple, Mount Ararat seen from Yerevan, Khor Virap Monastery and Canyons at Garni

Armenia offers the best, absolutely breathtaking views of Mount Ararat - the mountain where Noah's Ark supposedly landed after the biblical flood. It also has numerous unique, carved entirely into a cliff wall magnificent monasteries, the only Roman style temple in the region of Caucasus and truly original ancient Zvartnots cathedral. The capital city - Yerevan is very modern and bustle with life, especially in the summer after the sunset. Its the best time for dancing fountain and laser light shows as well as admiring the views of Mount Ararat from the Cascades.

6. Iceland

Iceland is one of the places on our planet that are both, extremely out of this world and at the same time quite easily accessible. Not everywhere you can admire one of the most spectacular natural phenomenon - northern lights, watch the geysers explode with boiling water, spot rainbows in the waterfalls, swim in hot, milky waters outdoors when the temperature outside is well below freezing and the snow is falling on your head, climb the glaciers and roam around the world's safest capital - Reykjavik.

5. Brazil (The Northern States)

Rio de Janeiro is one of the most famous cities on Earth. However, when you travel out of it to the north of the country, you'll be lucky to meet any foreigners. And that's a pity because, in my opinion, there's so much more to see and do there than in Rio itself.

The Amazon jungle is great for those who crave adventure, you can swim with the dolphins in one of the rivers, catch piranha fish and crocodiles and sleep in a jungle listening to the sounds of nature. In Lencois Maranhenses, you will have a chance to feel like you are in a desert squeezed between the sea and the rain forests. During the rainy season, the sand dunes fill with water and also contain fish! The patchy landscape is best admired from a bird's eye view. Chapada Diamantina offers unforgettable scenery of world's most spectacular caves and waterfalls. Porto de Galinhas has natural pools made of coral reef where, during low tide, you can swim with the fish. Not to mention the old, colorful towns of Recife, Olinda, Salvador and Sao Luiz that will also enchant you for sure!

4. Bosnia and Herzegovina

From top left: Mostar Bridge, Modern Sarajevo, Mostar Old Town and Dervish House in Blagaj

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a tiny country in the Balkans. It's a perfect place for those who are interested in history, nature and magnificent scenery. Sarajevo, the city that suffered a lot in the last century, now is a bustling with life capital. It was here where the first world war started at the Latin Bridge following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The city has both European and Oriental feeling, as if Prague and Istanbul were merged into one.

Down south, the climate changes dramatically. Near the coast, the winters are mild and subtropical plants can be grown. In such beautiful surroundings, among mountainous landscapes, lies the charming town of Mostar. Original, stone roof tiles, impressive bridge and the cozy atmosphere make this place perfect for a weekend trip. Not to mention the unreal, green river that looks as if taken from a fairy tale.

3. Georgia

From top left: Tbilisi Old Town, Vardzia Cave Monastery, Georgian Alphabet Tower and The Moving Monument of Love in Batumi

Georgia was one of the most interesting and surprising countries I have been to. It's a place of great history, where wine-making started, full of ancient (several millennia BC) cave cities, oriental towns and superb cuisine. The country which is roughly the size of Switzerland boasts a few climate zones that change as you drive within a couple of hours. From the desert, through the snowy mountains to subtropical, ever green Black Sea's beautiful beaches.

If that's not enough, the main cities are spectacular! Especially at night when every tree and every building is illuminated with different colors. Tbilisi old town is one of the most charming I have visited with the wooden balconies and the ultra modern Bridge of Peace. Georgia was the only country in the world where the passport control staff is actually really friendly - I got wine as a gift for visiting their land! How a country that has so much to offer is practically unknown in the west is a mystery.

2. Turkmenistan

From top left: Door To Hell Crater, Yangykala Canyons, Goat Horns at Tribal Cemetery in Nohur Village and The Wedding Venue in Ashgabat

Turkmenistan is one of the least visited countries in the world. And it's not that difficult to get there at all. People usually know absolutely nothing about it. It is a true hidden gem. Politics aside, the country boasts, among other things, stunning natural landscapes (Karakum Desert and Yangykala Canyons), the ancient towns of the famous silk road, underground warm springs, mountainous villages, the peculiar white marble, clean to the extreme capital Ashgabat and the Door To Hell crater which has been burning for over 40 years. Visiting Turkmenistan you will really feel like an explorer as you can see what not many have seen before.

1. Albania

Albania is the best kept Europe's secret. Just like Georgia, it's hard to believe that the country is literally unknown (and skipped by those who travel to Croatia or Greece), being located right in the center of Europe. This is probably (just like with Ukraine) because of the almost always bad coverage by the media.

However, when you visit Albania you'll feel as if you were transported to an exotic, tropical country full of colors. Among others, you can see here: breathtaking beaches (both fancy and completely wild and virginal) with the clearest waters, mighty mountains, cozy, charming, oriental villages of Berat and Gjirokaster, interesting capital Tirana, ancient Greek and Roman ruins and the Blue Eye spring - the clearest fresh water lake that looks like artificial aquarium. Also, try rafting down the river in Osum canyon! It's a lot of fun!

The prices - 20 EUR (24 USD) for a room with the stunning Ionian Sea view, 5 EUR (6 USD) for a meal and a pint of beer in a nice restaurant. And the locals are the friendliest in Europe. The seem to love foreigners. Visit Albania now before the hordes of tourists arrive and make it loose it's authenticity - just like, for example, Dubrovnik, that feels as if it were inhabited by Western visitors.