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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Where Are You From?

Odds are your ancestors travelled by sea or via extensive overland routes during the 1400s, 1500s, 1600s, etc.

Do you know your family history? Discoveries are fascinating. 
Find out what your DNA says about you.
23 pairs of chromosomes define you. Through today’s DNA testing, you can bring your ancestry to life.

Find out what percent of your DNA comes from populations around the world, ranging from East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, and more. Break European ancestry down into distinct regions such as the British Isles, Scandinavia, Italy and Ashkenazi Jewish. People with mixed ancestry, African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans will also get a detailed breakdown.

You’ll likely discover dozens or even hundreds of people who share DNA and ancestors. The matches you’ll get can range from close family to distant cousins.

Preserve your family’s history by highlighting names, dates, events, and more.

Genetic testing for genealogists has gone mainstream, with costs plummeting as private companies refine their techniques and improve the accuracy of results. For as little as $99, anyone can order a do-it-yourself kit that comes in the mail, then submit their spit for analysis and receive results within six weeks.

Genealogy hobbyists compare locating family tree to a scavenger hunt, laden with clues, surprises and dead ends.

Recently, scientists used the technology to confirm the identity of a skeleton buried beneath a parking lot in Leicester, England, as King Richard III, who died in battle in 1485. The scientists matched the bones to two living maternal-line relatives, according to the University of Leicester, which conducted the analysis along with radiocarbon dating and a skeletal exam.

Closer to home, not everyone is excited about the DNA technology, as some remain cautious about privacy or simply don’t see the need. But for others who are adopted or are trying to explain a gap in their family tree, the tests may provide a crucial breakthrough, experts said.

“I think a lot of people find it of use to them, personally, especially if they are searching for a form of identity they are able to uncover in this way,” said Noah Rosenberg, associate professor at Stanford University’s Department of Biology and expert in evolutionary biology and genetics.

“Many people have a missing relative or have a parent die young and are searching for some kind of connection,” he said. “We see a significant trend where African-Americans are searching for some understanding of the populations from which their ancestors originated from Africa.”

There are no federal regulations that govern the direct-to-consumer ancestry tests, said Hank Greely, a Stanford law professor who specializes in the ethical, legal and social implications of new biomedical technologies. Basically, both state and federal regulation only cover tests sold or done for health purposes.

Popularized in recent years by its use in high-profile criminal investigations and paternity cases, DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, is most commonly used to prove a relationship to an individual.

New tests created in recent years, however, have also turned DNA into a popular tool for determining ancestry. As DNA is passed down from one generation to the next, some parts remain almost unchanged, while other parts change greatly. This creates a link between generations and it can be of great help in reconstructing our family histories. While it can’t provide you with your entire family tree or tell you who your ancestors are, DNA testing can:

  • Determine if two people are related
  • Determine if two people descend from the same ancestor
  • Find out if you are related to others with the same surname
  • Prove or disprove your family tree research
  • Provide clues about your ethnic origin
Genetic testing.
Genetic Testing

DNA tests have been around for many years, but it is only recently that the cost of genetic testing is becoming affordable for average families  interested in tracing their roots. It is now possible to Map your global origins with the most complete coverage of your DNA. through home DNA test kits which can be ordered through the mail or over the Internet.

America’s Lighthouses

The Fyddeye Guide to America’s Lighthouses
The Fyddeye Guide makes your travel planning easier by showing you hundreds of fascinating lighthouses you can visit today on the east coast, Great Lakes, Gulf Coast, and the west coast, including Alaska and Hawaii. From remote islands in Maine to the metropolises of southern California, you’ll discover the towering historic structures that have inspired travelers for millennia. You can get close to virtually all America’s lighthouses, and many allow you to climb to the top and stay as long as a month in historic buildings.

  • More than 750 lighthouses, conveniently organized by coastal region and state
  • Brief histories and complete contact information, including website, email address, and phone
  • Three maps with suggested itineraries for discovering lighthouses in New England, Michigan, and California
  • Notes on whether you can stay overnight on the lighthouse grounds, possibly in the keepers’ historic quarters
  • Chapters on lightships and historic life-saving stations, including availability of overnight accommodations
  • More than 40 images of lighthouses from coast to coast

With a foreword by leading New England lighthouse photographer Jeremy D’Entremont.

America’s Lighthouses

Books, DVDs, Postcards, Puzzles, Paintings, Water Bottles, Mouse Pads . . . Right: Lighthouses of North America: Beacons from Coast to Coast by Sylke Jackson, a freelance writer with a BA cum laude in Literature from Yale University. Her passion for architectural preservation has led her to work on historic buildings in this country and abroad. Jackson teaches high school English and writing. She also races Lightning sailboats on the Hudson, and always keeps a grateful eye on the lighthouse at Sleepy Hollow, New York.

Globes and Navigation

The first record of boats large enough to carry goods for trade is around 3500 B.C. and this would mark the birth of the art of navigation. Early navigators generaly stayed close to shore and navigated by sight of landmarks or visible land characteristics. Usually they traveled by day and sought a calm harbor or anchorage at night. They did not have charts but lists of directions, similar to today’s cruising guides.

Navigation of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and the China and Australian Seas.Navigation of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans and the China and Australian Seas: With an Account of the Winds, Weather, and Currents Found therein … Extensive Extracts from the Nautical Magazine

The first ocean voyages were dramatic – a vessel blown off course by a sudden storm or error by the helmsman could destroy the ship and crew. However, Vikings regularly sailed to Iceland and Greenland between 900 and 1000AD, apparently using only the sun, stars and wind as their guide.

Early navigators had to be creative in compensating for their lack of technology. Viking explorer Floki Vilgjerdarsson, credited with the discovery of Iceland, carried aboard a cage of ravens. When he thought land should be near, he would release one of the birds. If it circled the boat without purpose, land was not near, but if it took off in a certain direction, the boat followed, knowing the bird was headed toward land.

One of the earliest man-made navigation tools was the mariner’s compass, an early form of the magnetic compass (c.13th Century). Initially used only when the weather obscured the sun or the North Star, these first compasses were very crude. The navigator would rub an iron needle against a lodestone, stick it in a piece of straw and float it in a bowl of water. The needle would point in a northerly direction. Early mariners found the compass inconsistent – most likely because they did not understand that it pointed to the magnetic north pole, not true north. At the time, they could not explain these variations and could not put much trust in the readings when navigating an unknown area.

Shop Rand McNally Travel StoreAt this time, mariners began to realize that maps would be helpful and began keeping detailed records of their voyages that land-based mapmakers used to create the first nautical charts called Portolan Charts (c. 13th Century).

The charts, created on sheepskin or goatskin, were rare and expensive and often kept secret so that competing mariners would not have access to this knowledge. What they lacked in accuracy they made up for in beauty, which you can review by visiting Geographicus. Lands and ports on the chart were highly decorated with depictions of buildings and flags.

The size of lands on charts were more a reflection of their importance to trade routes than their actual geographical size and, of course were not very accurate. The charts did not have latitude or longitude lines but did have compass roses indicating bearings between major ports.

Changes in Latitude . . .

TRAVEL! Because I do not mind travelling alone, I’m looking for single cruise fairs, which are difficult to come by. However, I prefer shoulder season travel anyway (fewer crowds), so bargains are to be had on many cruise lines. Some considerations:

  1. Try one-way, shoulder-season cruise itineraries. The shoulder-season—when families aren’t traveling—is a fine time to save on the single supplement on cruise ships. Some cruise lines, such as Royal Caribbean, charge less for the supplement on many cruises, including “repositioning cruises,” when cruise lines move their ships from their summer cruising waters to their winter waters (from the North Atlantic to the Caribbean in the fall), or vice versa. These cruises often last longer (between 7 and 12 days) than standard cruises—yet cost up to half as much per day per person as the norm. Norwegian, for instance, recently had interior berths on a late October transatlantic cruise going for as low as $399 per passenger.
  2. Pick the type of repositioning cruise that suits your style. Some itineraries have themes, such as wine tastings, and multiple port stops, like Holland America’s Zaandam’s recent itinerary between San Diego and Vancouver. Other routes cover a lot of sea with few—if any—port stops, such as an early November Carnival itinerary between Dover, England, and Boston. Some people might find the lack of port stops boring. But others won’t mind: Because these cruises are less popular, the ships are often well below capacity—which means you receive additional special attention from the on-board staff without having to pay additional gratuities.
  3. One-way cruises: Booking an affordable one-way flight home is key to keeping total trip costs down. For international itineraries, check your airline mileage. Many airlines now offer frequent flier miles for one-way tickets. Domestically, JetBlue, and Southwest sell one-way fares that are also inexpensive.

    If you love travelling, be sure your credit cards, supermarket cards, etc., all have mileage attached to your purchases. My brother just called to say he has 40,000 miles — that’ll take him to just about anywhere in the world for the price of airport taxes only. Also, never use airline miles for domestic flights — not worth it. Learned that in 1970 when friends wanted me to visit them in Miami. For the same mileage, I was able to meet them in FranceAn example from the Huffington Post: Say you’re deciding how to use 30,000 American Airlines miles and you’ve got it narrowed down to one domestic location (Chicago) and one international (Lima, Peru). 30,000 miles is enough for a roundtrip flight to either location, but look at the difference in value. Flying from New York to Chicago for the second week of September costs either 25,000 miles or $188, which means you’re using 133 miles-per-dollar that you would have spent otherwise. Flying to Peru, on the other hand, costs either 30,000 miles or $883 (34 miles-per-dollar). In this case, you get nearly four times the value from using frequent flyer miles to fly abroad than domestic.

  4. One of the MANY advantages of being retired: Look for last-minute deals. Some companies try to off-load unbooked cabins in the weeks before a departure by offering “happy hour” specials in which they reduce the supplement. Such sales are typically held the same day they’re announced on the companies’ websites. (From a travel agent who founded a website listing discounts on supplements for solo cruisers: Most travel agents receive advance warning of the sales.)
  5. Look Around the Globe: The small Hebridean Princess ship looks rather like a British country home and has only 30 cabins, with 10 reserved for singles at no extra charge. Everything is included, from meals, wines and cocktails to shore excursions, on-board guest speakers and guided tours. Itineraries include the Scottish coast, Ireland and Wales, Northern France and England and her Channel Isles. Guests are provided with bicycle, fishing tackle and picnic baskets on request. Tipping is not allowed. This is one, of course, where you have to watch airfare costs, so that mileage you are racking up with purchases just may get you to/from without undue additional expense.
  6. Note: If you can avoid it, never travel in an interior cabin, unless you don’t mind sleeping in a closet. Your health will stay better if you have a balcony room and can get fresh air throughout your cruise.

Strange Trips and Cruises

A group named The Travel Writers’ Life has posted an article on “Strange Tours,” which you may find amusing/interesting and worthwhile to delve into.

Many of their selections are unusual simply because of the location, i.e. riding a Harley through Australia. We see Harley tours all over the U.S., so, again, location is the key to many of these ideas. Tours through vineyards, growing grounds, plantations, factories, etc. are also held around the world so if your budget keeps you close to home, we’re sure you will be able to find an interesting site within some miles of your home.

If none of the following “speak” to you, pick up Patricia Schultz’s 1,000 Places to See Before You Die (second edition: Completely Revised and Updated with Over 200 New Entries)

Following is a selection of listings from The Travel Writer’s Life, along with our comments and some tours we have taken around the world. (Prices vary, of course, depending on length of the tour, transportation needs, season):

Harvest Tours

Join a harvest tour during prime picking season and learn about agriculture and botany from knowledgable guides on spice plantations, wine growing, tea making, coffee, etc., just about anywhere in the world.

Harley Davidson Motorcycle Winery Tour
This does not seem strange to us; we live in California and frequently see Harley riders cruises between vineyards. We know a group of men who did travel via ship with their motorcycles to various ports. This particular tour is in Australia and that would be stunning.

Chocolate Tours

One of our family favorites: Visit a Chocolate Factory anywhere in the world. Hop on the old town trolley in Boston and tour some historic American chocolate sites, including the first chocolate factory in the U.S., and the origin of Tollhouse cookies and hot fudge sundaes. Or stop by the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory in San Francisco’s Ghirardelli Square near Fisherman’s Wharf . . . plus you’re near internationally noted seafoods restaurants all along the Wharf. Find chocolate factories in Hobart, Australia; Zurich, Switzerland (including the Lindt Chocolate Shop); try a beer and chocolate tasting tour in Dunedin, New Zealand . . .

C’est Cheese Tours
From Paris, France through Burgundy and the Cote d’Or to Beaune. Learn all about the history of cheese-making, experience local markets, taste regional wines. Locations: Paris and Burgundy, France

Ethiopia Coffee Harvest Tour
Enjoy indigenous ceremonies and coffee tasting as you tour coffee farmers’ coops through Ethiopia. You’ll also tour the walled city of Oromia and see and partake in harvesting, washing, drying, and coffee pulping processes.

Chilean Wine Harvest Tour

Over seven days, you’ll participate in harvesting, wine-making, and lots of “taste testing” in seven of Chile’s top wineries. Horseback through orchards, historical sites, visit wine shops of Santiago
Location: From Santiago de Chile through the wine country

Mystical Tours

Celtic Mystical Journeys
See crop circles, druid stones, mysterious structures, and more over 12 days through England, Scotland, and Northern France.

Crop Circle Tour in England
Take a four-day tour through the crop circles of England.

Dark Deeds, Monks, and Great Castles Tour
In one day, you’ll explore castles, medieval cities, cathedrals, battlefields, Benedictine chants, and tales of the “real” Macbeth in Scotland.

Ghost Tours

Night-time Ghost Tours take you through haunted houses, hotels, and other buildings around the world. Find out who’s haunting them, and see where the haunters were buried. Such tours include creepy stories about abductions, conspiracies, mysteries, etc. Samples:

Voodoo Tour

New Orleans Cemetery and Voodoo Tour
Follow the ghosts of the numerous characters of New Orleans’ mysterious past! Tour one of the city’s most haunted cemeteries, St Louis Cemetery No. 1 and visit the tomb of the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau. Your guide will explain the unique above-ground burial custom and will give you an in-depth overview of the fascinating evolution of voodoo.

Bermuda Triangle Shipwreck & Glassbottom Snorkel
Snorkel through the Bermuda Triangle… or cruise through it in glass-bottom boat… and see for yourself the remains of ships in the treacherous “wreck capitol of the Atlantic.” You’ll visit a reef site and a shipwreck, and sip a “Bermuda Rum Swizzle” or a free soft drink on the way home.

Egyptian Meditation Tour

Outdoor Experiences

Bering Sea Commercial Crab Fishing Tour
Board a commercial fishing vessel and watch real crab fishermen at work on the Bering Sea from the comfort of a heated viewing platform. See and touch the 17 American Writers & Artists Inc. catch of the day, as it’s held in tanks on the boat, then watch as it’s released back out into the ocean.

Flora, Fauna, and Natural Phenomena Tours

Night Vision Penguin Tour
Phillip Island, Australia, is home to the world’s smallest penguin species, the Little Penguin, or Fairy Penguin. And if you opt for the “Ultimate Penguin Experience” tour, you’ll be able to view the penguins at sunset, and then by night with night vision goggles. Phillip Island, Australia.

Active Volcano Tours

Volcano Tours: Hawaii, Arenal (Costa Rica), Pacaya Volcano (Guatemala)
With tour difficulty levels ranging from easy to “expedition” level, amateur volcanologists, geologists, and nature-lovers alike will enjoy exploring an erupting volcano. You can find daily volcano tours of varying difficulty around the world.

Bat Watching Riverboat Cruise
Float through Austin, Texas, on the Lonestar Riverboat. At sunset, 1.5 million Mexican free-tail bats flap out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge, blackening the sky. Location: Austin, Texas. Similar tours are also available in New Mexico, Central and South America.

Rainforest Canopy Zip Line Tour

Costa Rica features dozens of active adventure tours. Clip into your harness, and glide through the trees of the Costa Rican rainforest by zip-line. There, you’ll see and hear birds and other exotic wildlife of the rainforest while you zip from tree to tree.

Carpet Weaving Tour
Visit a nomadic Turkish village with a population of 100 and learn traditional carpet weaving techniques. Experience village life, and spend some time at the beach, too. These are incredible tours. If you have the funds, consider buying a hand-woven Turkish carpet during this visit.

Craft and Folk Art Tours

Generally small group tours organized to buy and practice arts, Craft World and Folk Art Tours are featured in cities around the world from Oaxaca, Mexico, to South Africa to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.


Major cities around the world have a wonderful, colorful Chinatown portion of their city. We have been to San Francisco’s Chinatown hundreds of times, but we still enjoy visting Chinatown in New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Vancouver . . . Chinatown is fabulous for picking up small attractive gifts for everyone in the family and not breaking your budget.

Tours and Cruises

Irish Folklore Tour
Irish musician and folklore professor Mick Moloney takes you on a tour through the back roads of Ireland. You’ll meet artists, artisans, musicians, dancers, storytellers, and more. Choose from different itineraries that’ll take you through days of music and folklore across Ireland and Scotland.

Amsterdam Red Light District

The tour takes you to the area that’s synonymous with Amsterdam, the Wallen (Red Light District), passing monuments and entering narrow old streets such as the well-known Zeedijk street. In the past it was one of the most dangerous streets in Amsterdam, where sailors could be found searching for local amusement. Nowadays, instead of the shady bars of yester year you’ll find lively and welcoming Dutch pubs and restaurants. The walk includes a visit to the Prostitute Information Center, where you will be offered a free drink and can chat with a former prostitute who will explain the system and answer any questions you might have.

The Catacombs of Paris

Paris is known for the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Louvre, but in the City of Lights a darker reality lurks in the infamous Catacombs of Paris.
Buy your tickets at a little booth and then descend into the dark, dripping tunnels of the Paris Sewer. Walk on grates as raw sewage runs through the tunnel below your feet. See displays of sewer maintenance equipment, and read about the history of waste control in the French capital city.

Sumo Wrestler Tour

Spend the day touring Tokyo, Edo-Tokyo Museum, and learning about Sumo Cultures. See daily rituals of sumo wrestlers… from what they eat to how they stretch and practice to techniques they use in the ring. In Ryogoku, you’ll also see where the traditional sport of sumo wrestling is presented at the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo arena, and learn more about this traditional sport at the Sumo Museum. See where sumo wrestlers live and train, and visit the sumo shop for Japanese souvenirs with a difference.

Battlefield Tours

Battlefield Tours have been established for battlefields around the world, some in large groups, others more intimate with personal guides. Normandy, Hong Kong, France, Istanbul, Gallipoli, Germany.

Pirate Tours

Take a pirate tour of Nassau, Portugal, or the French Quarter in New Orleans and hear stories about buried treasure and famous pirates. The New Orleans walking tour includes pirate history and stories about the real pirates of the Caribbean. As you follow your knowledgeable guide through the French Quarter, learn about the famous Lafitte Brothers, French pirates who came to New Orleans in the early 19th century. Visit their blacksmith shop – one of the city’s oldest surviving buildings – as well as other interesting landmarks such as Pirate’s Alley and the site of the Spanish colonial prison where both brothers were jailed.

Shipwreck Tours

Dive to view ship wrecks in locations around the world: Florida, Cayman Islands, Australia, Aruba, South Africa . . .

Water, Water Everywhere . . .

Underwater Tours

Journey under the sea and get a whole panorama of underwater life, often without getting wet in your guided Underwater Tour. Options include glass-encased semi-submersible vessel, snorkel gear, full dive gear . . . you’ll see salmon, starfish, sea cucumbers, moon jellyfish, and, in most tropical waters, exotically colored fish darting between coral reefs. Of course, if you’re near water, you’ll also see bird life around the shore. Locations are just about anywhere in the world. One of our favorites was Roratonga, where we went swimming with bat rays and pink reef sharks.

Cruise Ships

Royal Caribbean Cruise Line
Check out Family Cruises for a host of “on-the-water” activities for you and your kids. You can find cruises for scrabble players, video gamers, adventurers, Who-Done-It-Cruises, competitions for dancing or costumes, fully-clothed travellers and barely clothed travellers on oceans and seas anywhere in the world. You can bring along your scrapbooking projects or start a new one. Learn to dance from experts and notable performers. Choose from cruises in Alaska, the Bahamas, Mexico, the Caribbean, and other, destinations.