Vienna

Austria is a German-speaking country with a charm of its own. Vienna is tucked away in the northeastern section and has all the old world charm. The capital city of Austria was home to famous residents such as Mozart, Beethoven, and Sigmund Freud. The museums Quarters District has a lot going on within a short walking distance. If you need a break there are shops, bars, and restaurants around every turn. Enjoy a local beer and watch the people wander through the square. Vienna is a beautiful destination for solo travelers, families, and lovers.

  • Transportation

Coming into Vienna by plane or train you will most likely start your journey in the city center. Public transportation is clean and well organized with local trains, subways, trams and buses running in a timely manner. Tickets are cheap and are on an honor system. There are no booths to check tickets. if you get asked by an agent to see proof and you do not have any, there are strict fines. Believe me, the officials have heard every excuse. I was on a train and thought my ticket could go on to the next city, but it turned out the first time I saw an agent, my ticket wasn’t good. The only reason I was let go with a warning is that I had just added money to my travel card. Let that be a lesson to anyone who is thinking about skipping buying a ticket and taking their chances. There is a large fee for not having a ticket plus the cost of the ticket you didn’t buy. There are also Vienna city cards for 24, 48, or 72 hours pass for public transportation and hop on hop off bus service which is available at the airport and transit centers.

  • When to visit

Summer is the busiest month with beautiful mild weather and all the bells and whistles for visitors. Followed very closely by the holiday seasons at the end of the year. Everything in the region is decorated to perfection in old world charm.

Offseason is Spring and Fall months where you will find discounted flights and dinners to the most popular tourist locations.

  • Weather

Vienna is a four-season city. In the winter months of December, January, and some of February it can be dry cold and snowing. As long as you know how to dress for the weather and make stops to catch a break from harsh weather conditions then Vienna is still a wonderful and walkable city year-round Summers are usually in the 70s but occasionally can get up to the 90s.

  • What to see

The main city draw to this cultured city is the museum district and the many palaces. The most popular is Schonbrunn Palace which is an easy fifteen minutes away on public transportation. All around the city, there are open-air markets filled with fresh flowers, bread, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices. There are multiple restaurants to sit and dine on local favorites. There are many parks with perfect lawns and fountains taking up blocks to get lost in or have a peaceful lunch.

Vienna is a great and walkable city. The locals are friendly and often English speaking for those not willing to test their German. I felt safe walking the busy areas around the city and quiet backstreets where I stayed. Like any good traveler, you should be aware of your surroundings and be careful after dark.

By Heidi Vastag

The pink dolphins of Hong Kong

Away in an old fishing village, there are regular tours of something I have never heard of before, pink dolphins. More commonly called the Chinese White Dolphin but affectionately called pink dolphins for this unusual pink and white-colored dots making themselves stand out against the dark water. I found this tour in Tai O village, a once-thriving fishing community, now being overshadowed by a giant bridge connecting the Hong Kong cities of Zhuhai and Macau. It is the longest sea-crossing bridge spanning the Pearl River Delta. Tai O has been an attraction to see the local fishing culture and to catch a glimpse of the pink dolphins, but now the village has an added feature on the boat tour, to see the new record-breaking bridge. The bridge construction has been a threat to the rare pink creatures. Marine experts say the dolphins feeding and communication activities of these very social animals have been distributed. Hopefully, now that the construction is about over and the bridge is waiting for its grand opening the sea life will be left alone.

The Dolphins start their lives as dark calves until they grow into the famous pink spots. The pink spots are from blood vessels beneath the skin of the dolphins. There isn’t a great deal known about these pink dolphins of Hong Kong but the numbers don’t lie. The animals in the Pearl River Delta areas have seen numbers drop by eighty percent over the past decade.

Try as you may, but you will not find any pink dolphins in my photos. Like many others on the boat, I was never ready when these creatures would jump up to say hello. After many missed shots, I simply sat back in the first of the boat and watched pointed pink heads pop up and splash away just as quick. It was a calm end to a busy Hong Kong day.

Windy Wellington

The Capital of New Zealand and tucked away at the bottom of the north island and is the gateway to the south island. The ferry across the Cook Straight runs from Picton to Wellington three or four times a day through two different companies, Interisland and Bluebird. But we didn’t come here just to leave. There are things to do and see in Wellington! The first place I feel most people are drawn to is the downtown waterfront area. The length of the water has shops, restaurants, and some museums lined up ready for the next batch of visitors. The weekend is the big draw for the waterfront, farmers markets and rummage sales going on every Saturday. Sunday has different events and activities going on all year. When I was there one Sunday morning there was a relay for life race going on. Being the capital city center you can count on various functions.

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The streets are narrow and are filled with endless shops of all kinds. Wellington is a busy city but a friendly one. Like most of New Zealand, their citizens try to look out for one another and give the benefit of the doubt. Wellington is a great city for a pedestrian. I never took a cab or bus while in the capital city. There is wide sidewalk twisting with every street even in the midst of road construction. There are so many fascinating places I passed on my many hours of getting to know this city I definitely didn’t have enough time to stop at them all.

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The best view and my favorite part of the windy capital city is the cable car that lifts to the top of the city. There are signs on the streets to direct you towards the ticket and the bottom of the cable car. Every ten minutes the car runs for a small fee and you will have two options. You can pay for a return ticket down or get a oneway ticket and walk back down to the city. You must take a oneway ticket and wonder the way back down. There are multiple paths to follow heading down and there are even maps available along the way. Lush green landscapes and manicured yards give way to a stunning rose garden. The rose garden was in full bloom on that warm day I found myself at the edge of row after colorful row. Not only roses but the exotic flowers from a place a half a world away from my own home. So it was all new and unique to me. The rose garden is The Lady Norwood Rosegarden and has The Wellington Botanic Garden just up the hill.

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Be local

Go local! We have heard it said, but what does that mean to you right now. If you are sitting at a desk not doing work you should be or sitting by a pool on a far away island you can find what is off the beaten tourist path of chain stores and malls if you look around.

Being a local in your current city, home town when you visit family, or find something local in a far away place. It’s always worth it to go local and see how people are going about daily life. If the locals love a great restaurant, it’s safe to say the food will be worth the trouble.

If you need to be pulled out of your fast food comfort food zone then listen to these reason why going local, anywhere, is important everyday.

  • Big box stores dont need anymore of your money.

Which do you think gives better service and quality, the multiple billion dollar corporation paying minimum wage workers who have trouble answering questions or the small locally owned businesses ran by a family and is tied into the community. I would rather put my money into the hands of a small business owner even if its cost a little more.

  • Google doesn’t always know everything.

There are places in this world (believe it or not) that are not connected to a Facebook page or Google maps. When you are in the far corners of the Earth you may not be able to understand what information is on the internet. If you happen to pass a place where the tables are full and there is a line, there must be a good reason and its usually worth the wait. “Greasy spoons” and “hole-in-the-wall” restaurants have some of the best homemade cooking in every city.

  • Locals know what’s happening

As you are strolling by a busy lunch spot for the afternoon rush of the blue collar area and decide to see what the fuss is all about then you have made it past the first step. The next part is tricky (not really) and involves speaking to others. Ask your server or eat at the bar and talk to a person near you. See what is going on around you. Even if you are asking about what is going on in your own area you still can learn about amazing places from word of mouth. When you are in a place with a language barrier there are always still ways to ask about great things to do. Draw a picture, translate a question, or hand and body language talking. It seems like a lot of trouble but the rewards can be amazing, even if it’s just the tale of getting lost on the way.

Supporting the little guys doesn’t just benefit the small business owner. It is good for you the consumer! Usually going small means it’s not a touristy spot and the prices are cheaper. In the cases that you pay for for an item chances are the quality is much higher then the cheaper box store version. I would rather purchase a homemade gift to a gift anyone could buy on Amazon.

This is a photo of a woman I meet selling woven elephants on the sidewalk outside a market. I gladly paid for this fine craftsmanship and a very unique souvenir from my time in Thailand. Go out and get lost, or meet your neighborhood Baker and make a new friend. It may be the most fun thing you do all week.

Hello Berlin

Berlin may bring up mixed thoughts and feelings upon hearing the name, but the city has grown to be a cultural and artistic hotspot.

The Holocaust Memorial is a maze of different sized columns numbering 2711 in all. The artist meant for the memorial to be confusing and disorienting. It is not taken kindly if you climb on the memorial, so please be respectful.

The great Brandenburg Gate always seems to be filled with life. This gate marks the former city gate where the beginning of the road from Berlin to the town of Brandenburg an der Havel.

While walking around there was a “checkpoint” where I received an old school passport stamp for Checkpoint Charlie at the east and west side of the Berlin checkpoint.

Waiheke Island

This beautiful island beach is a thirty-minute ferry ride from Auckland city center and is a perfect escape from the busy city. After more than three weeks of walking every section of Auckland, I needed a rest from the city and the always go momentum. By accident, I found out about Waiheke Island. I was on one of my many walks to see what hidden corner of the world I could find and somehow started talking to a man walking to work. After telling him my plans and what I have been doing he suggested this gem. I had seen it on the map and read about the island, but thought it was too far or too much for the ferry. In short, I was wrong.

This is just what I needed, a peaceful day at the beach. I walked off the ferry and checked the return times to find I had all day to play of the Island. I started off to the closest group of shops on the beach which was short and slightly warm. I stopped in a few stores and changed into my swimsuit and worked my way down to the beach. Walking along the beach edge and climbing over rocks until I found my own little spot away from anyone. I ended my day with some local wine and pasta. Also, I discovered a week before this trip a wine from Waiheke Island called Man-o-War which I fell in love with and bought a bottle for my mother. I try to eat and drink as local as I can, everywhere I can.

Fiji

 

 

Picture perfect Fiji is a discount tropical island ready to take your money! EVerything seems like such a great deal! Most will never see anything but the resort side beside the landscape.  What an incredible backdrop to the many activities to do in this tropical paradise on or off the water.