Tag: travel

Go Deep Into Nature, Find Your Answers


By Michael Traynor 


For millennia, people have sought answers by venturing deep into nature. They did so even when not consciously aware of their actual questions. Any natural venue will suit the purpose. Many people throughout recorded history choose a desert.  I thought to give it a try, and want to share what I learned.

After crossing the Atlas Mountains in Morocco from Fez, and heading toward Marrakesh, we headed south, deep into the Sahara Desert, traveling across rolling sand dunes in all-terrain vehicles, until randomly stopping at an utterly desolate dune to set up camp. After a warm meal around a fire, huddled above more stars than I had ever seen, I resolved to rise early the next morning to greet the sunrise.

Waking early, I walked far out from camp to mount a high dune and from there surveyed the emptiness, silence, and utter absence of life in every direction, with nothing but rolling sands for my company.  Sunrise was magnificent. Then I glanced down right where I stood. What was there?

A rock, it too utterly alone, sitting atop this empty sand dune.  Marveling at its perfect egg-shape, I later learned such rocks are honed to that precision through millions of years of weathering sands. It bore the markings of a larger fossil, with smaller creatures beside it.

About 400 million years ago, during the Devonian Period, this shelled sea creature was swimming in the Sahara Ocean, where it died sinking into the ocean bed.  Calcifying through the drying out of the ocean, baking as the climate further shifted, and formed by rolling sands, it had risen to the very top of this deep sand dune at the moment of my arrival and at the place I chose to stand.  Here I greeted this once fellow living creature!  It had traveled far from earth’s distant origins and improbably succeeded in keeping our appointment and offering me its gift.

And so I received my answer. I am where I belong, where I need to be, doing what I need to do, and being who I am intended to be. Only then did I understand that those were my questions.

Go deep into nature. It can be into the Sahara, or simply strolling in the local park at your doorstep. Keep your own appointments, and receive the gifts that await.

Dispatch from Iceland

By Sophia Scazzero

The author’s selfie with the waterfall, Barnafoss.

Iceland, of all places, has become the country to visit du jour. It may seem like an odd choice given its remote location, small population, and lack of romanticisation in western culture. Iceland may be lacking in the usual tourism draws like historic buildings, an old thriving city, or ancient ruins where cities like Rome or Paris excel, but its terrain alone blows all conventional european trips out of the water. One does not go to Iceland necessarily for the culture or the cuisine-although both are thriving, but for the unique and incredible beauty of its volatile landscape.

That being said, I found my stay in the capital city of Reykjavik incredibly pleasant and full of things to do. Ancient buildings are scarce in the country due to the constant threat of volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, but still there are some amazing structures in the city. There’s the large Nordic style church at the top of the hill of Reykjavik called Hallgrímskirkja, and the Harpa auditorium center which is a unique modern building with a facade built to mimic the northern lights. The city, though small, has a nice array of museums, quality restaurants, and cafes with cute wifi passwords like “ILOVEICELAND”. Everyone there is welcoming and friendly, and had a nice sense of humour that made the trip all the more pleasant. But, as I mentioned, the main draw of the country is the landscape, and as someone who has experienced this wild and stunning scenery first-hand, I consider the new-found hype surrounding Iceland quite warranted.

Iceland’s landscape.

There are the obvious things that everyone thinks about when they think of Iceland: glaciers, hot springs, and the northern lights. They are all the stunning results of the crazy geological nature of the island. The country, created by ancient volcanic activity, is a hotspot of geologic activity like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and geysers. The island lies on top of the Mid-Atlantic ridge, the area where the Eurasian tectonic plate and the North American tectonic plate are divided and actively pulling apart causing the country to expand by about 2 centimetres every year. The physical island of Iceland is geologically volatile, providing for an unusual and breathtaking landscape found nowhere else.

Iceland’s landscape is so peaceful yet daunting, as there is practically nowhere you can go and not be surrounded by glaciers, mountains, the ocean, or even an active volcano. The unforgiving and impressive nature makes it the type of place that really reminds you of your insignificance in the scheme of the universe’s existence; the mountainous, glacial landscape beside the ocean makes for textbook majestic scenery. I even got the opportunity to hike up a glacier, which it turns out is not just a block of solid ice but more like mounds of rocks and moss leading up to a slope of snow. And the best part is after two hours of hiking up it, you can slide right down!

The hiking horses to travel over lava-rock terrain.

The rest of the country is flush with lava rock, which was created by lava that flowed through the region thousands of years ago, rolling over rocks and over itself and creating a bumpy and jet black landscape. Most of the rock is capped with bright green moss that takes thousands of years to grow too. One of the fun activities you can do just about a half hour outside of Reykjavik is take a beautiful horseback ride through the lava-rock terrain, which is otherwise impossible to walk on without a carved out trail.

The waterfalls are equally incredible, gushing with bright blue water even in mid-winter. This massive waterfall was called Barnafoss, not too far outside of Reykjavik. The intensely blue water streaming over the dark rock beside white snow is a most unusual and visually stunning combination of colors and textures.

The waterfall, Barnafoss.

Of course, no visit to Iceland is complete without acknowledging its massive potential as a geothermal energy source. Iceland is home to the largest geothermal pipeline in the country, Nesjavellir. You can stop by at one of its stations, which is basically a massive, sulphuric steam bath pumped through a pipeline. If you stand next to the stream, it is so intense that you cannot see more than a foot in front of you, and you emerge soaked from the condensation. Another cool thing caused by the geothermal climate was that even though there was still snow on the ground and I was wearing two pairs of pants and five top layers, there were still streams of water running through the ground! The frozen ground.  Due to the hot springs underneath, the water is piping hot at about 80 degrees fahrenheit, making it easy for it to keep on flowing despite the chilly temperatures. This enables the near-boiling water to travel all along the 27 kilometers of pipes without freezing, and conveniently enough, actually gives it just enough time to properly cool for use.

Given the cold climate and the abundance of natural hot springs, something anyone must do while in Iceland is take a dip in the natural hot springs, or “hot pot” as our hosts called it. This hot pot was also the ideal place to see the Northern lights at night. The area where I was, way up in the northwest of the country in the West Fjords, is remote enough that you can get a great undisrupted view of the Northern lights. They are a flickering, flowing stream of white light, faintly tinted green and constantly moving. This stunning feat is the result of collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere with charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere. Cool science aside, their appearance always renders one speechless when spotted.

Iceland’s wonderous landscape.

The history of the island starts with the settlement of the Vikings that started in the 9th century. Now being from the Midwest, where a house built in the 1800s is considered “so old”. But our little victorian houses have nothing on thousand year old glaciers and lava rock. To put another obnoxious american perspective on it, the Vikings were the people that believed in the Nordic gods, such as Odin, Loki, and Thor; characters that have been around for so long they’ve gone from Gods in practiced Norse paganism, to mythological stories, to American comic books, to Marvel movie superheroes.

Speaking of Viking practices, one thing I did not know and was pleasantly surprised by was that the Vikings were an egalitarian society. Since equality was ingrained in the country’s settlement roots, this basically paved the way for a long history of equality between men and women in Iceland. Even now, Iceland is set to become the first country to ban companies from unequal pay based on gender. Coming from America or even from having visited many cities in Europe, I was too used to hearing about all the achievements of ancient men who “did this and that” but then hear about how the women were “not allowed to do anything so they stayed at home and raised families”. I was incredibly delighted to finally visit a country that did not have that same dismal history of suppressing women. In Iceland, men and women did the same jobs, and for that matter, were expected to. For instance, I visited an old fishing village in the West Fjords that was the hub of the fish trade for Iceland and Western Europe since the land was settled. For centuries, the female cook for the boat crews (which were comprised of both men and women), were paid as much, if not more than the crew, because the cook’s role was acknowledged for its importance and physical toll (they cooked outside, even in winter).

The author petting her trail companion.

Iceland was such a stark contrast in comparison to all the other countries I have visited in Europe. It brings so much to the table in means of culture and new terrain that it really does deserve its current status as a “must-see” European country. There was nothing that I did not enjoy, perhaps besides the cold at times (and I was there during an unusually ‘warm’ spring), but all in all, it was an amazing and unforgettable trip. If you are lucky enough to be planning your next trip abroad I would not pass on Iceland. If this has not fully convinced you, there is also a deal with Icelandic Air, where if you are travelling to mainland Europe, you can stopover in Iceland for a week and they will pay for the extra days’ stay. This might even be an excellent economical choice.  Regardless, whichever way you end up getting there, I can guarantee you will come back having seen things you would never otherwise see along with stunning pictures to prove it.

Guam: An Island Off the Beaten Track

My parents are in the military, meaning they have been deployed to naval bases all over the world: Italy, California, Spain, and now- Guam.

Guam, if you haven’t heard of it, is a Pacific Island in American territory with a Navy and an Air Force base. Fun fact, my parents met each other 22 years ago on the 210-square foot mile of Guam, and it was where I was conceived. But, after my visits, I see how a couple laying on the beach together, bronzed and glowing, could easily fall in love.

Chicago is wonderful, but sometimes I miss clear skies and bright stars. Guam has some of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen.


My father spoiled me and put me on First Class for the 13 hour flight to Japan, and I crossed “Fly First Class” off my bucket list! Even just being able to go into the United Lounge in O’Hare and avoid the mess of angry travelers crowding outlets in Terminal Two was a dream. I cuddled up with my book and ate three bowls of yogurt to feel truly pampered.

United Airlines seduced me quicker than any other lover ever has with its endless doting: from the warm cup of nuts to the mobile sundae bar. I’m still using the little travel Cowshed lotion, which came with my First Class goodie bag. I’m debating on marrying for money just to have the luxury of never flying Coach again.

The island is a playground for outdoor adventures, with snorkeling and scuba diving in the bright blue of the Pacific, and mountain biking and hiking through the rainforests. Warning: it’s a little hot and buggy, but the scenery is worth it. I prefer water activities as a way to escape the relentless heat and flying beasts.

I actually did go scuba diving for the first time in Guam, another thing off the bucket list!

It was wonderful to go to places like Orote Point, a place I had heard about from stories my parents told me about their romance since I was a little girl.

Something that wasn’t on the island twenty something years ago was the German restaurant, McKrauts. For an island with limited cuisine options, the German food was spectacular (and I should know, I love German Food).  I ordered the Beef Goulash, which was spot on, with a side of spaetzle I inhaled in seconds. However, the whole time a Euro-techno track was playing seemingly on repeat. It was annoying at first but then the center around which our table’s giggles surrounded. If anyone can contact McKraut and get me the album I would love them forever.

We had drinks at Sunset Grill and their pizza is delicious, but the best drinks are the cocktails my mom mixes up at home, like the pictured blueberry, mint, lime, vodka mix.

It was so great to see the doggies again. I love my Zoey and Alex.

Soon my family will be back together again in Chicago. I couldn’t be more grateful, but I’ll miss my annual trips to Guam.

Marlaina Fancher is an intern with Classic Chicago Magazine an English major at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She loves capturing the world around her through images and words.

Syrian Sojourns

By Brigitte Treumann

The Perennial Biker, Brigitte Treumann.

Waiting for warmer weather to make for enjoyable biking in Chicago, I trawled through my photo files, diaries and notebooks to find a mention of biking elsewhere and traveling in different places and times.

And so, I came upon my diary from October 1999 when I spent a month in the first season of the Syrian-American Joint (Archaeological) Expedition to Hamoukar, one of the largest pre-Classical mounds (tells) in Syria.  Not only was I a neophyte working as an “area excavator” in such a big-league archaeological enterprise (I had previously participated in several smaller excavations in the Near East and in southern Spain), but it was also my first time in Syria. I fell, head over boot heels in love with the country: its stark beauty, the ancient sites, the contemporary liveliness of its cities, the overwhelming majesty and elegance of the Ummayad Mosque in Damascus, the glorious suq in Aleppo, and, of course, the hospitable and welcoming men, women and children whom I would meet on many subsequent  visits.

Picnicking with friends in green pastures of north-western Syria

My last trip to Syria in 2008 to attend a conference in Damascus was particularly wonderful since I finally visited Palmyra. Despite a raging sandstorm (or perhaps because of it), it was a stunning experience. The fine, almost powder like grainy mist obscured but also illuminated those honey-colored temples, columns, walls and ancient paved walkways. It felt as if I was floating among and through these most miraculous ruins. Agatha Christie, in her little-known Syrian memoir Come ,Tell Me: How You Live, writes about her first impression of Palmyra; “it is lovely and fantastic and unbelievable, with all the theatrical implausibility of a dream.”

Ba’al Temple, Palmyra

Columns of Palmyra

Citadel above Palmyra

Much of this “implausible dream” has recently been destroyed or vandalized by the terrorist organization ISIS. ISIS has not only almost obliterated many of the monuments but also brutally murdered Khaled-al-Assad, veteran archaeologist of 40 years and devoted caretaker of the exquisite Palmyra ruins.

Joining the first season of the expedition to Hamoukar, located in the extreme north-east of Syria, a region known by its traditional Arabic name, al-Jazira (island) adjacent to the border with modern Iraq, was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Map of Hamoukar’s location

How could I pass up the fantastic opportunity to participate in a major excavation in Syria, led by one of the most  prominent American archaeologists, McGuire Gibson, Professor of Mesopotamian Archaeology at the Oriental Institute, the University of Chicago?  And while work was demanding and schedules rigorous (we started the day at 5 am , an hour-long truck drive took us from the border village, Yarubiya, where we stayed, to and from the site every day), there were occasional respites. On the spur of the moment I decided one day to explore the nearby border with Iraq on the one rather dilapidated official excavation bicycle.  My diary entry describes this somewhat foolhardy and entirely unimaginable adventure in today’s Syria:

“Today I decided to bicycle to the Iraqi border. The expedition house has only one, rather shabby-looking, bike, but it will do and I am determined to pedal the 2 or 3 kilometers to the border post. Just want to see what Iraqi soldiers look like.  Our village, Yarubiya, or rather the village that hosts us, the Syrian-American Archaeological expedition to Tell Hamoukar, is very close to the Syrian-Iraqi border and not too far from the Turkish one.  I mounted the rusty steed and pedaled slowly in what I thought was the direction towards that border post. There was a sign, slightly rusty and askew and banging in a fierce desert wind like a western movie moment that indicated “this way to Mosul”  in English and Arabic. En route, I met a very romantic-looking camel nomad and his herd of one-humped camels who stared at me, both herder and camels, this tall, blonde apparition on a shaky bicycle. In very rudimentary Arabic I shouted, the wind was fierce, -“Iraq”?  –  he shook his khefiye-adorned head and laughed. He obviously thought he had met a slightly lunatic “feranji “(foreigner), but pointed to the sign and motioned I should continue on my way.”

Perhaps a member of the shammar khorsa (Arab Camel Nomads who roam this region)

His herd of one-humped camels

l did get to the border post, where a few surprised soldiers waved their weapons at me, shouting “ no, no Madame!”  I also heard some voices inviting me to tea.   I beat a retreat to our dig-house, where I got a bit of a scolding from our mudir (director) Mac Gibson.

The “mudir,” Mac: mentor and friend, deciphering a cylinder seal

The field director, Clemens Reichel, friend, colleague, professor at the University of Toronto, and boon dig-buddy looking into the past

The mound of Hamoukar. Many tells, similar to Hamoukar, dot this semi-arid landscape/region called the al-Jazirah, once part of Upper Mesopotamia and the heartland of ancient Assyria and later part of the Akkadian empire in the 24th century B.C.

The history of Tell Hamoukar is fascinating, complex, and of great significance to the history and culture of ancient northern Mesopotamia with occupation strata from the 5th millennium BC to Islamic times, and in some sense, even unto this day with several contemporary dwellings spread over the high mound.    While this blog may not be the place to describe the intricacies of stratigraphy, pottery sequences, step trenches (where I worked) Corona satellite photographs and surveying, it may be entertaining to remember the less glamorous activities associated with “being on a dig.”  The pictures below illustrate some of the necessary daily tedium and the then rather basic accommodations.  A proper dig-house was built soon after the first season and, I am told, has withstood ISIS-led attempts to destroy the excavated areas and the house.

The crew working in the step trench – taking a break for the photo op

Washing and mending pottery

One might say that my companions, Judy Franke and Peggy Sanders, and I slept in 7000-year old dust for a month.  At the end of the season I unwrapped from a muck-encrusted suitcase, my carefully packed finery, navy silk trousers and a white Issey Miyake top to look presentable for the bus-trip back and entry to Aleppo. Needless to say, I was totally overdressed, but the driver gave me the best seat on the bus and shared his lunch. Delicious!

Aleppo- Halab

“Honourable is her rank, and far-flung in every age her name….. Feminine is her name and she has decked herself in the ornaments of womanly beauty…… “  (Abu’l-Husain Ibn Jubair, 12th century pilgrim/traveler)

I have visited this magnificent city many times later, long before its indescribably tragic destruction in the ongoing civil war. But that first encounter, coming  “off the dig” was pure magic.  Friends had recommended I stay at the Tourist Hotel –  run by an excentric Lebanese, Madame Olga. Shall we say I felt a bit leery – Madame Olga?  But this could be an adventure and I never regretted it. Despite the edgy, semi-industrial/garages-filled neighborhood, with stray cats caterwauling in the middle of the night and scrawny chickens pecking about, the place was perfect. An attractive older house, squeaky-clean, room and bathroom en suite, and outstanding breakfasts.  Madame had the habit, as I said, a bit eccentric, to knock at our doors at 7 am and yell, “time for le petit dejeuner”.  Woe to him or her who was late, the luscious buffet was dismantled and that was that.

Ah, but now for my first promenade into the ancient heart of Aleppo.   I just wandered whither the spirit took me, through the narrow and very lively lanes of the immense suq where an incredible variety of stalls and shops offered everything from spices, jewelry, textiles, rugs (oh, those rugs) to foodstuff, household goods, copper and brassware, soaps and perfume and much more. If this sounds like any other description of exotic markets, so be it, it was a fabulous experience.

Glorious brass collection in my friend Waddah’s elegant shop in the suq

Scene in the suq (photo coursey of Dr. Joseph Greene)

I meandered about, beset by a bevy of young men who either wanted to sell the absolute best, the absolute cheapest to the most beautiful woman (so they said) or offered company, “lovely lady, we can show you Aleppo.”  Truly entertaining, I thought.  Sitting down, finally, in a tea shop, just opposite from the  citadel, this incredible monument on a high mound, dominating the city, was certainly one of the better places to drink mint-flavored tea.

The ancient traveler, Abu’l-Husain Ibn Jubair, remarks “Halab has a citadel famed for natural strength, conspicuous in height, and exempted by inaccessibility from being sought or won…..

The citadel mound has been built upon continuously since the 2nd millennium BC . Many civilizations (Greeks Byzantines, Ayyubids, Mamluks – to just mention a few) have since occupied, destroyed, rebuilt and added structures to this architectural/ cultural conglomerate. Ayyubid architects (12/13th centuries) have left the most impressive and distinct features.

Architectural detail in the citadel (photos: courtesy of Dr. Joseph Greene)

A colleague had kindly mentioned that I should call on a good friend of his, Mohamad Mast, antique dealer, collector of fabulous rugs and a “solid” (as he put it) male with whom I could go “safely” for coffee or dinner or even a night-club. Mohamad and I became excellent friends; he was everything my colleague said about him and more. He really was a guardian angel, not just on this first visit, but whenever I was in Aleppo his shop on Baron Street and his home were wide open to me.  I loved his family. We supped on the wonderful rooftop restaurant, the Andalib, usually fairly late in the evening – the fresh bunches of mint, the succulent kebabs, not to forget the sweet and cool Arak that went so well with the aroma of cumin, garlic, and coriander.  I bought my first serious rug from him – the first of many to follow. Mohamad Mast died prematurely around 2005, in a way this was merciful since I can’t imagine what the destruction of his beloved Aleppo would have done to him. I miss him to this day and I dedicate this paragraph to him with gratitude.

Sweet snapshot of Mohamad Mast and me

One of the more charming neighborhoods in Aleppo is the so-called Christian quarter Al-Djedeideh, now in shambles, but then a very pleasant part of town. When I didn’t stay with Madame Olga (her early petits dejeuners got on my nerves) I retreated to the Dar Zamaria,one of several classic  17th century Aleppo houses that were restored or turned into rather lovely boutique hotels. Recently I watched a very moving YouTube piece on Dar Zamaria as it was when I stayed there, with its gorgeous palm-ringed inner courtyard, the elegant, curving second-floor balconies, the intricate woodwork, and how it has now been reduced to rubble. The rooms are vandalized, the fountain destroyed, the palms ripped apart, utter desolation.

But in those peaceful days long before the civil war, Djedeideh was a most enjoyable area to visit and browse among the jewelry stores, listen to the many churchbells ringing from Armenian and Greek Orthodox churches around the Al Hatab square, and visit was has been called “the temple of bric-a- brac” the Orient House. I spent many hours there looking at shelves crammed full with everything beautiful or merely interesting, useful or not so useful, but best of all was the great variety of textiles, old embroideries and Persian woven stuff. The owners, a stern father and his two smiling sons, were charming and persuasive sales artists –  offering apple tea and delicious pastries, heaping outrageous flatteries and delicate compliments on the unsuspecting and slightly befuddled female visitors.  Truthfully, I never left that place without some great find.

One my favorite “finds”, a sweet early 20th century lamp, a magic snake with turquoise eyes, and a little crown balancing the brass lampshade adorned with a colorful pearl curtain.

I do so hope that the store is still around and their owners and their hospitable families, they invited me several times to their very handsome house in the countryside, are alive and safe.

I pray it may be so.

The Grand Mosque of Aleppo (photo courtesy of Dr.Joseph Greene)



Costa Rica Photo Story

Is there any better escape from the Chicago winter than a short trip to Costa Rica? The country is blossoming with beaches, animals, and adventure around every corner.  There is something for everyone, be it lounging along the beach with a umbrella-embellished cocktail or kayaking through alligator infested water.

The Banana Azul Hotel, with a fantastic beachside location in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

The hotel offered many fantastic adventure activities (such as white water rafting) and served up amazing huevos rancheros

I spent hours lounging on the perfect beach just steps from our hotel room. I’d recommend going for a morning run down the beach, the sunrise is unbeatable.

The cocktails weren’t too shabby either. I feel obligated to buy a fruity drink whenever I’m in the tropics.

Puerto Viejo was just a short walk along the coastline.

My travel buddy and I were entranced by the views.

The little town was as colorful as the flowers of the rainforest.

Time slowed down there. It felt like all the worries of the world faded away to a simpler life.

The Jaguar Rescue Center was just a short drive away, and we had the pleasure of playing with a group of baby monkeys!

Lola the parrot wasn’t going to miss out on the fun. She showed us all her favorite toys.

My favorite little critters were the swaddled baby sloths.

We couldn’t touch them because they’re sensitive to the oils on human hands.

Another day was spent on a cacao farm learning about the chocolate making process. Food is more enjoyable when you understand the process behind it.

The forest stretches across the hills for miles, offering a multitude of hiking trails for the more adventurous sorts.

A short hike brought us to a waterfall not far from the road. A small stand sold us coconuts to drink milk out of.

People were jumping off the rocks alongside the waterfall into the pond below. There was a blend of locals and tourists enjoying themselves in the sun.

I’d recommend kayaking along the peaceful rivers to feel like you’re truly one with the rainforest around you.

The rainforest is full of fantastic beasts. I was glad we were safe from the alligators in our kayak.

Life bloomed out of every corner of Costa Rica

When the golden hour hit Tortugero, the town became a gorgeous rainbow

The little town mainly relies on of the turtle-based tourism. Turtles lay their eggs along the shores and people travel from all around the world just to watch the baby turtles’ journeys to the sea.

The trip inspired me to live a more “pura vida” every day.

On the other side of Tortugero, away from turtle beach, are fantastic little restaurants and bars along the water.

We met a wonderful group of people at a bar who recommended a nightclub just down the road…

But the sun hadn’t set yet. We walked off our lunches through the forest. It felt like we were miles from any town or sign of civilization.

But be warned if you go exploring, poisonous snakes hide in the trees.

But if you can brave the snakes, you might just come across the cutest critters hiding in the treetops.

Marlaina Fancher is an intern with Classic Chicago Magazine an English major at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She loves capturing the world around her through images and words.

Stunning Budapest






By Wendy Wood-Prince



Eastern Europe has become more and more a destination for western travelers and Budapest is one of the hippest popular cities. Filled with history, amazing architecture, art and lively nightlife, Hungary’s capital is much more than just a trendy place. Budapest is comprised of two separate but equally fun ‘cities’ separated by the Danube River. On the more hilly Buda side, great remnants of Budapest’s 1000-year-old history exist contrasted by the flatter, Pest side, which is home to great hotels and a rich nightlife. Budapest is fairly easy to navigate with electric trams and some good walking, so conquering both sides is a breeze.

A view of Buda Castle from The Chain Bridge.

Budapest contains Austrian influenced architectural remains dating from the Roman and Ottoman Empires. One of the more spectacular remnants is The Buda Castle. Located on the Buda side of the Danube, the palace was originally built in the 14th century where The Castle Hill Funicular carries people up the steep hill from the Chain Bridge to the gigantic palace. This Buda Castle holds The Budapest History Museum, The National Szechenyi Library and The Hungarian National Gallery. The National Gallery includes works by Hungarian artists in the 19th century and examples of realism of the Fin-de-Siecle by Mihaly Munkacsy.


The tea room in the bookstore of the National Szechenyi Library

Adjacent to Buda Castle is Matthias Church, an equally stunning building, built during the middle ages. During the reign of the Ottoman Empire, the church was a mosque; but today, the building is a huge attraction for locals and tourists alike enjoying Catholic Mass, concerts and weddings.  Throughout history, many Hungarian kings underwent the ceremony of coronation in Matthias Church. The Trinity Column, which stands in front of Matthias Church, was built to commemorate the end of the plague and to protect the people of Budapest from further epidemics.


Rooftops over the city with the dome of the Parliament building in the background.

Also on the Buda side of the Danube is The Fisherman’s Bastion, named after the group of fisherman who was charged with defending that critical stretch of the city during the middle ages. This fantastical neo-Gothic structure features intricate turrets, staircases and lookout points along with statues of historical figures.  Enjoy beautiful views of the Danube and Pest, just across the river from the many lookouts.


Dinner al fresco on the Buda side of the Danube River.


Amazing architecture and natural beauty abounds in Budapest.

The Chain Bridge is one of the more dramatic landmarks in Budapest; built-in the 19th century, the bridge connects the Buda side with the Pest side of the city. 

Designed by British engineer William Tienney Clark, the bridge was constructed in the United Kingdom, sent to Budapest in pieces and reassembled on site. At night the bridge is lit with hundreds of lights and provides one of the most stunning sites in Budapest.

Intricate detail on a door in Castle Hill.

The luxurious Four Seasons Gresham Palace is at the Pest end of the Chain Bridge. Originally built-in 1906 by the Gresham Life Assurance Company, it was known to house craftsmanship unlike any other building of its time. After World War II almost destroyed the entire palace, it fell into disrepair. The Four Seasons Hotel Group acquired Gresham Palace in 1989 and after a five-year, painstaking restoration, headed by Hungarian designer Miklos Szentkiraly, the hotel re-opened in 2004. Not only is the hotel a historic landmark but with the $110 million-dollar restoration, its historical walls hold the perfect combination of the modern and luxurious. If you are not lucky enough to check in, stop by to enjoy their afternoon tea, served in the lobby every day from 3 to 6 pm, where you can sip and relax to the live piano music. If The Four Seasons is not within your budget, try The Corinthia Hotel. Located in a charming part of Pest and not far from The Four Seasons, The Corinthia has an excellent concierge desk that can help navigate, direct and advise you on everything having to do with your visit (and it won’t break the bank).


The ceiling and close up of 300 year old bricks in a small jazz bar.

After pampering your senses with Budapest’s culture during the daylight, enjoy any of the varieties of music which abound the city at night. From punk to traditional Hungarian and rap to jazz, you can find something to your liking. Take a “Ruin Bar” tour, where you can find yourself dancing in an old abandoned castle while video installations dance across the walls. Some castles feature bigger rooms filled with one kind of music and smaller rooms with funky jazz or soul selections. It’s worth checking out but takes some endurance as some places don’t get hopping until well after 10 pm.


Jimi Hendrix presides over an ancient corner in a “Ruin” bar.

The “Ruins” a castle converted into a musical venue with live music ranging from classical to grunge – complete with video installations on the walls.

Budapest is a blend of the exotic and historic with modern sensibilities and daily life.

South African Safari: A Photo Essay

A visit to Southern Africa with Abercrombie & Kent. Begin in Johannesburg. Go north to see Victoria Falls from the Zambia and Zimbabwe sides; then west into Botswana and Namibia for game viewing, and finally south to Capetown and the Cape of Good Hope…

Armed with just his 5c iPhone camera, Michael Traynor tackles Southern Africa. 

This leopard is just lounging. It takes its kills into trees to eat in peace

Waterfalls everywhere you turn. Victoria Falls is the largest curtain of water on Earth. It sprays so hard, it rains upward on you.

The falls just keep coming, both on Zambia and Zimbabwe side

Victoria Falls from the air. That is entirely water spray.

A starter home in a Zimbabwe village.

Main street, zimbabwe village

The kids were really fun. I doubt they thought they were poor

A “bush break”. Man meets tree

Striking a majestic pose!

A powerful female lionness

The road. The vehicles have air snorkels so as to not stall out in water.

Ask any giraffe; the higher you go, the tastier the leaves become.

An African tale. the (endangered) African wild dogs trap an impala

Hi! I am bigger than you are, so there!

Open-air vehicles: no protections. We are neither food nor fear, and so ignored

Can’t see me!

Rhinos in Zambia, enjoying some tasty grass.

The gorgeous African environment

Impalas seem to know they are photogenic.

This may be the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen

I can’t believe I ate the whole thing!

Lions lounging around

Rare to see a full hippo grazing in broad daylight

Leaping around, loving life!

A lovely afternoon for some lions

At the cape of good hope, looking down at dangerous churning ocean

African penguins! who knew? rare and endangered, of course.

The Cape is beautiful. Five distinct biospheres in one area.

Me at the Cape of Good Hope. A big deal!