My lifestyle as a travel blogger is rarely full of glamour and luxury like most people think. The past week has been a good example of that. I spent the days working my butt off for a family running a Permaculture retreat and education center in the mountains near Biella Italy. Compost toilets, not-so-hot hot…
I’ve struggled with whether or not I should write this article. I don’t want to discourage people from doing yoga, because it is an incredible life-changing practice, but I do want to bring attention to a disturbing pattern that I think needs attention. The pattern is that ego, greed, and hypocrisy are destroying the yoga…
The retreat center I’m staying at has an incredible view overlooking Lake Orta, and since I’ve been staring at it from a distance for the past week, I figured it was time to see up close. I, and my two friends Liza and Chi, decided to hike down to the town of Omegna, which is situated on the northwestern most point of Lake Orta. We filled our day packs with snacks and our swimming suits, and set off for a fun day of hiking, swimming, and shopping around Lake Orta, in beautiful Omegna Italy.
There are a total of eight hikes in the surrounding areas of Lake Orta. They range in difficulty level and duration. We were actually staying in the mountains, near the tiny village of Quarna Sopra, located about 50 miles from the Malpensa Airport in Milan, Italy. Fortunately, one of the hikes starts at the back gate of the resort. From there it was all downhill, on a cobblestone path cutting through the forest. Half way down we came upon a charming little church, built about 200 years ago. Out front there was a fountain with fresh spring water where thirsty hikers can fill their water bottles. It took us about an hour to make it down to the town.
I couldn’t understand a word my coworker was saying. She spoke Italian, and I speak English. Grazie and ciao was the full extent of my knowledge of the Italian language, but I gathered from her motions that I was supposed to follow her. I followed Katarina down the stairs into the basement. Workers were everywhere. People from the kitchen (she calls it the “chicken”) were carrying supplies up and down the stairs, and a couple of other women were folding towels on a table on the far side, jabbering away in another language I couldn’t understand. Katarina opened the door to a storage room, filled with folded and stacked towels and sheets. In the center was a huge pile of wrinkled sheets and pillow cases. She picked up the iron and pointed at the large stack. Then she pointed at me!
There is something special about the energy of Sintra Portugal. From the moment I arrived I felt alive and well. I haven’t felt such positive energy since Rishikesh, India or Friday Harbor, Washington. I don’t know if it’s the climate, the sea air, the happy people, or its mystical history, but Sintra is simply magical, and I really didn’t want to leave. The village is so much more than palaces and castles. Get off the typical tourist path and you will discover gorgeous beaches, charming coastal towns, impressive wineries and a fascinating history.
The Cork Covenant
Capuchos, also known at the Cork Convent, is a 15th century monastery that provided refuge to impoverished people. It’s intriguing to think that at the same time they were building all those lavish palaces, they erected a monastery for the poor, in between ancient boulders and Cork Trees. The door frames are about 4 feet tall and edged with cork bark. The hallways are about two feet wide and the ceilings about 5 feet high. The buildings feel like part of the landscape and the whole place has an incredible spiritual vibe. I sat and mediated there for a while. One of the more fascinating stories about the place is that one of the most famous monks fell in love with a woman, and they moved into a tiny cave just outside the monastery, where they lived happily together for the next 30 years.
The charming and picturesque small town of Sintra Portugal is located within the stunning natural landscape of the Parque Natural de Sintra-Cascaisl. This national park includes lush rain forest and steep hills that blend easily with the gorgeous coastline, situated only about 12 kilometers to the west. The hills and forest provide mild temperatures and a vast variety of outdoor activities, such as hiking and biking, but it’s the astonishing palaces and castles of Sintra that steal the show.
Quinta da Regaleira
This gothic and neo-manueline style palace, built in the mid-1800s, was my favorite. Not because of the interior, which was also remarkable, but because of the beautiful grounds and gardens surrounding the palace. They can only be described as paradise. I could have spent days wandering those gardens. Beneath the grounds are a series of caves and tunnels that lead to the bottom of an old secret well and a waterfall. It was a maze of wonders that left me wanting more.
After being in the pristine and stunning countries of Germany, Austria, and Sweden, it was hard to adjust to life in a large, over populated, dusty, smelly city. I hate to admit it, but that really is my general opinion of Casablanca. Sure, it has some nice qualities, like beautiful beaches and the wealthy French Quarter, but in general my advice is that if you want to visit Morocco, skip Casablanca and try Marrakesh instead. I was there just long enough to learn some things about the culture, and here are 8 culture observations from an American visiting Casablanca, Morocco.
There is a heavy French influence in Casablanca that dates back to its history in the early 1900s. In fact, I think more people speak French than Arabic, at least in the area I was in. Street signs and marketing are mostly in Arabic, but everywhere you go people say “bonjour” or other common French phrases.
A few days into my Kos trip, someone asked me if I had been to Bodrum yet. “Is that one of the islands?” I asked in ignorance? Imagine my surprise when I found out it was Turkey, and only a 45-minute ferry ride away! I had an amazing day in Bodrum, Turkey, and to me it will always be the city of wonders.
Getting a Ticket
There is only one ferry that does a day trip to Bodrum. The rest of them leave in the evening and come back the next day. I tried to buy a ticket on line but had problems with the system, so I got on my scooter and rode to the office only to find out they were closed. In fact, many office close for several hours in the afternoon in Greece. With no other options, I decided to show up about an hour before departure the next morning, hoping they would still have available tickets. Success at last! With my ticket in hand I still had time to enjoy a Turkish cup of coffee before the voyage.
The Turkish café near the marina brought me my steaming cup of strong coffee and I asked for some cream or milk. The woman just shook her head, stared at me with a blank face, and walked away. I wasn’t sure if she hadn’t understood me, or worse, maybe I had offended her. That is when a girl at the table next to me spoke up and explained that you don’t put milk or cream in Turkish coffee. It is unfiltered, so all the grounds sink to the bottom of the cup. If you pour milk in it all the coffee grounds will resurface. I asked her if you could then just wait for the grounds to sink to the bottom again before drinking it. She crinkled her brow, looking a little perplexed, but acknowledged that would probably work. A few moments later the woman did bring me some milk after all. It seemed like a pretty big ordeal for a single cup of coffee. The girl next to me also explained that fortune tellers in Turkey look into the grounds of the coffee at the bottom of your cup in order to tell your fortune.
Sometimes even travel bloggers need time to chill out, and that is exactly what took me to the remote island of Kos, Greece. Time and time again locals told me that American’s never visit Kos because it’s too far away. It must be true because although I met a lot of Europeans on the island, I only met one American and that was in the airport on the way home. One thing is for certain, the island of Kos, Greece is the perfect place for rest and relaxation.
Kefalos is a cute little traditional Greek village on the western side of the island. There are plenty of archaeological excavations and ruins to explore that are remains of ancient civilization. It is all jam packed of more modern places, including some fancy hotels, restaurants and night clubs. My hotel was located in Kefalos, and although I didn’t care for my accommodations, the pool was delightful and the town is right on the beach. Make sure you spend a day at Paradise Beach enjoying the warm turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea.
I was enjoying some Swiss cheese fondue and a glass of wine in Zermatt when I saw them walk by. They didn’t look like the other tourists. They carried helmets on their packs and walked with a certain resolve that immediately caught my attention. These guys are on a mission, I thought to myself. Imagine my surprise when I returned back to my hostile and found them lounging in my door room. I introduced myself and asked about their gear. Christoph and Herbert Maile couldn’t contain their excitement. They were about to fulfill their 16-year dream to climb the Matterhorn, and sometime later that evening they agreed to give me the honor to tell their story.
I did my pre-climb interview the next morning with Chris, who speaks fluent English. He was 24 years old and full of energy. As we sipped our cappuccinos and ate our breakfast, I pestered him with a bunch of questions. His enthusiasm was contagious and I hoped to god they would make the summit.
Me: How many people are in your climb group?
Chris: Me, Dad (who is 56) and two guides. One is assigned to helping my father and one is assigned to helping me.
Me: Do you mind if I ask how much the guides cost?
Chris: No, that’s fine. They cost 1,000 euros each (about 1,180 USD).
Me: What does your mom think of this?
Chris: She knows she can’t stop us, so she just accepts it.
Me: How long do you anticipate it will take you?
Chris: A few hours the first day to reach the Carell hut where we spend the night. Then we will leave at dawn or whenever the weather is right for the summit. That should take another 4 to 5 hours, even though it is only 700 meters. It will take an additional 3 to 4 hours to climb down to the Carell hut and then we have to leave that night so we are hiking all the way back down to the bottom which will be another 4 hours.
Me: So, you could be climbing for 12 to 13 hours that day?
Chris: Yah, (he says, with a shrug of his shoulders, like it’s no big deal).