Travel TopOfBlogs Past and future wanderings of a travel bug . . .: January 2010

Saturday, January 30, 2010

I hope it's still there when I get the chance to visit . . .

One of the places I have been hoping to get to (but likely won't for a couple of more years) is the site of Machu Picchu in Peru. Sadly, this destination has been in the news recently due to heavy rainfall and flooding which has been the cause of mudslides in the area. The disaster had stranded many tourists in the area after affecting both the famous Inca Trail and the railway used by visitors that choose not to brave the 4 day hike. As well lives were lost in the mudslides as well. Just recently those stranded were evacuated by helicopter and are beginning to make their way home.

So far reports are promising that the ancient site has survived Mother Nature's worst and still stands intact. The Peruvian government has said that the railway will be restored as well in due time. So my dream to visit this ancient wonder is not dead yet.

For those who aren't familiar with the ruins, the site of Machu Picchu was built by the Inca in around 1450 AD which was at the height of the Inca Empire. The name means "old peak" By the time the Spanish arrived in the area just over 100 years later the site was already abandoned. Machu Picchu is often referred to as the "Lost City of the Incas" and was rediscovered by the outside world in 1911 when Hiram Bingham, an American historian, found the site with the help of the local people. Since then, the "old peak" has become a major tourist destination. If you want to learn more about this UNESCO World Heritage Site click here.

So in the meantime, I am trying to shape up for the 4 day hike I will have ahead of me when I do make it to Peru--if the Inca Trail is open then I intend to walk in the footsteps of the ancients to make my way to the city in the clouds.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Year ago today I was in . . .Madrid!

This time last year I was in Madrid, the capital of Spain. Previously having only been to Barcelona I was in for a treat between the food, the sights and the art! It was a very short trip but it made an impression on me nonetheless.

I really liked this city, although I must admit being in the middle of Spain it is still quite cold in January. The picture you see of me here was taken by yours truly at the top of the Alcazar in Segovia, Spain which is just a short train trip outside of the capital. As elsewhere in Europe if you want to take a day trip and don't have access to a private car, taking the train is the way to go. Madrid is served by two train stations. Once you figure out where you would like to go, visit the tourist information office and they will happily point you in the right direction. The train is also very cost effective. If you decide to go to Segovia and want to go to the Alcazar there are public buses which I suggest. It would be a rather long walk.

Other things to see in Segovia include the stunning Cathedral and the Roman Aqueduct which can been as you come into the town. It's amazing now and hard to believe that it was constructed during the Roman Empire. Today it is an UNESCO World Heritage site. What I really went to Segovia to see was the Alcazar. The Alcazar (which is an Arabic word for a castle or fortress) in Segovia has been a royal residence, a prison, and even a military academy. Today it is more of a museum and a beautiful one at that. There are suits of armor, stained glass, paintings and even a tower you can climb for a few extra Euros. If you don't mind a cramped staircase (it's the same way up and down) and a bit of a climb the view is superb.

Another good day trip from Madrid is out to El Escorial. El Escorial is located in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Take the train here as well. From the station the monastery is good walk away, however it is uphill. The site, like the Aqueduct in Segovia is an UNESCO world heritage site. It has been a royal palace, a monastery and a museum as well. It is also the resting place of Spanish monarchy and their families. If you decide to visit the only way to see the crypts is either by talking a guided tour or by paying for the audio guide. Do it if you are even slightly interested. If you are ready for lunch when you are done, and it is midday try one of the local restaurants menu del dia (or menu of the day). You'll get a 3 course meal with some sort of a beverage for a set reasonable price.

When you get back to the city, Madrid has amazing art museums on offer, great food and much more. The big three museums are the Thyssen, the Prado and the Reina Sofia. I made it to two of the 3. The Prado museum houses a great variety of works including the Spanish masters. If you are a Goya fan and only have time to see one museum go here. If you are a Picasso fan on the other hand and want to see Guernica go to the Reina Sofia. After, wander the city in the evening, go dancing if your up for it and try out some local tapas and Spanish wine. You'll be glad you did.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Excuse me, but WHERE did you say we are?!?!

As I may have mentioned previously I spent the last year living and working in the United Kingdom. While there I noticed there were a number of amusing place names. Some were good for a little giggle and some could be considered to be downright rude to an English speaker. However almost all of these strange names had a history of some sort most of which were not necessarily rude at all. Given Britain's long history the meanings of many word surely have changed since these places were christened with the names they still bear today. This got me to thinking however that North America (including Alberta, Canada where I am from) and the rest of the world has it's fair share of funny place names. North America may not have the long history that Europe does but there are definitely a few doozies. So that being said I thought that I would share some of the more interesting place names I have run across. Maybe you will be inspired to go visit yourself someday.

Some of the UK's notable names include: Pratt's Bottom, which is part of the London Borough of Bromley which likely meant a valley of a family called Pratt, North Piddle in Worcestershire, Piddle is believed to have come from the word pidele an Old English word meaning marsh, and even a place I visited briefly in Scotland named Tongue. Tongue, a small village located on the Kyle of Tongue in the North of Scotland was named by the Vikings from the Old Norse Tunga, which is a geographical for a piece of land shaped like a spit or tongue, the Kyle is pictured to the left. For more examples of some of the more interesting place names in Britain check out the article No Snickering: That Road Sign Means Something Else from the New York Times website. I ran across this article last year and it gave me a good giggle.

As I stated earlier Canada has a variety of funny place names as well, Alberta being no exception. We have Balzac, named for the French author Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850). We also have Hairy Hill, just outside of Edmonton, and a Round Hill, Two Hills, even Three Hills, do you notice a theme here? Then there is Seven Persons, whose actual population is closer to 700 persons. Tomahawk, Red Deer, Cereal, Carrot Creek and Milk River could be considered unusual as well. And of course I cannot forget Vulcan which may make you first think of Star Trek, however the town is believed to have been named by a railway surveyor after the mythological Roman God. Vulcan was the highest point of elevation of the railway in the prairies. I may have to make a visit to one these places this year.

Other Canadian notables (many of which are far worse than the Alberta mentions) include: Conception Bay and Dildo, Newfoundland; Shag Harbour, Nova Scotia; Ball's Falls and Sucker Creek in Ontario; Nonsuch and Flin Flon in Manitoba; Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan; and even Spuzzum, British Columbia. Spuzzum, is near to the community of Hope, BC. As such, Spuzzum has been referred to being "beyond Hope".

I could go on forever as there are funny names found all over the world but I will end with a few more notables from elsewhere in the world. So here they are. The United States boasts, Oregon, Intercourse, Penn., French Lick, Indiana and Slaughter, Texas to name a few. Australia boasts, Tittybong and Mount Buggery in Victoria, Devil's Marbles in the Northern Territory and even Manly and Bong Bong in New South Wales.

But the one to take the cake is this, Fucking, Austria. Yes, you read that correctly. In German the pronunciation would be "fooking". The village is believed to have been founded in the 6th century by a nobleman called Focko, hence the name means the place of Focko's people. Unfortunately due to the English connotation of the name the community until recently had a bit of a sign stealing problem. Check out the fix they have come up with to prevent the problem here.

Hope you got a bit of a giggle out of this and that maybe you are inspired to find out what is behind your town's name and maybe even to visit one of these!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Vacation is over . . .but a new year brings new adventures

Well adventures may not be the correct word for it but our Christmas vacation is over and that means back to work, school or whatever! The time off is never long enough. All the challenges of the new year loom--the resolutions you made and have already broken, the Christmas bills arriving in your mailbox in January and for me the prospect of a new job (or maybe even career). We will see how it goes, but I think things are starting off well. For the next while I may only be an armchair traveler.

As for our first ever poll entitled "Where would you spend your Christmas vacation given the choice?" the results were fairly evenly split. Here they are:

33% of you would choose to stay at home with friends and family
22% would join me on that beach in Mexico
0% want to spend Christmas with faraway friends and relations and
44% would love to be exploring somewhere new

As for me, the Mexican beach option is great affordable choice for those in North America and it would also fulfill option number 4 as being somewhere new, but it wouldn't be my choice every year--it would be fun to do it once though. I would definitely vote for exploring somewhere new! Thanks to all nine of you who voted ;)

The possibilities are endless and I hope you all find yourself somewhere exciting in the year to come! Happy travels!
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