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August 2012 Archives

August 30, 2012

The Mercedes-Benz Museum, Stuttgart, Germany

By Iain Shankland 
Traveling to Stuttgart from any part of Germany is easy, thanks to the excellent autobahn and rail system. On our most recent visit we took in the very impressive Mercedes-Benz Museum.
As you walk up to the front doors of the museum your anticipation grows for what lies inside the great glass building, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint. It doesn’t matter if you are a car enthusiast or not -- there are plenty of interesting barrier-free displays to keep adults and children occupied for hours. Displays are in German as well as English, and guided tours are presented in an abundance of languages thanks to the (included) portable self-guided tour device with headphones. For a very reasonable €8 (approximately $10, and children are €4) you get hours of enjoyment, a self-guided tour, and a nifty Mercedes-Benz lanyard as a souvenir -- not bad at all!
Your tour starts from the top floor of the exhibits after you’re shuttled via elevator through time to the 19th century. Stepping off the elevator you begin winding your way down the floors through displays that allow you to get up-close and inside many of the iconic vehicles that Mercedes-Benz has produced. From the very first horses and buggies to safety and utility vehicles, racing cars, and everyday vehicles for the masses, there’s plenty to see. Posters and artwork adorn the walls of the museum, taking you through the timeline of the vehicles you see and helping you to understand which world events were happening in relation to the vehicles on display.
Without rushing, we took about four hours to go through the museum and that included stopping for a reasonably-priced lunch. The tour ends on the ground floor at the gift shop where you can purchase everything Mercedes-Benz. Prices start at €1 (just over a dollar) and climb to several thousands of euros for unique one-of-a-kind items.

Hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. (closed Monday). For more information visit http://www.mercedes-benz-classic.com



There is a Mercedes-Benz plant right next to the museum that offers separate tours for those interested in watching some of the luxury cars being built, but we saved that for another trip at another time. Also close by is Wilhelma, the Stuttgart zoo (which we understand is awesome), and Mercedes-Benz Arena (the training facilities and stadium for the local soccer team, VfB Stuttgart). And, if you’re in Stuttgart at the end of September/beginning of October, you HAVE to visit the second-largest Oktoberfest in the world -- the Volksfest. It’s an experience you’ll never forget.

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Befriending Lions in South Africa

By Sylvie Macle
ITWPA Member

Do you have a soft spot for Africa’s big cats? Do you find safaris exhilarating but secretly wish you could jump out of the jeep to interact with the cuddly lion cubs? If you’re nodding your head, then this article is for you.

Volunteering at a Lion Research Centre is a rewarding way to make such dreams come true. It gives you ample time to get to know the cubs’ individual personalities and you can play with, bottle feed, and bathe the cubs as part of your package! You do, however, need to be accountable, not mind getting your hands dirty, and be available for duties any time between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. depending on your rotation.

Choosing your placement carefully is essential to ensure you have a positive experience. You will want to work with an agency that cares about the welfare of the animals and of the volunteers. Jinnie (info@africatime.co.za) from Hands-on Holidays was able to find me just the right mix of comfort, purpose, and adventure.

She recommended Ukutula, in a malaria-free zone, an hour and 45 minutes from Johannesburg airport. They provided three lovely meals per day and a very comfortable chalet (not a tent) with a hot shower. A basic two-week package (excluding airfare) currently costs $1,530 (based on two sharing) or $1,740 (for single occupancy). Transfers and excursions cost extra. Two weeks minimum is preferable. The local currency (ZAR/rand) can fluctuate greatly so prices listed in dollars will vary. You may also want to bear in mind that nights are chilly July through August.

Your fee helps the Centre pay for the lion, cheetah, and tiger food and their medical checks. The longer you stay, the cheaper it gets. How busy you are depends on how many volunteers work there that week.

If smelly work and early starts aren’t your thing, you can still visit Ukutula as a guest. You can stay in their luxury chalets (they sleep 3-6) and just pop over to play with a small cub or go for a walk to a water hole with a small group of teenage lions. Watching them run around freely is incredibly relaxing and safer than it sounds. An experienced guide will accompany you and about six other visitors and explain all about lion psychology.

Such a package costs between $450 and $780 per chalet for three nights, self-catering. Gourmet meals can be provided at around $55 per person per day (50% off for children).


In your spare time you can enjoy a guided walk around their fenced private reserve and look for giraffes, eland, and zebra, or see them (and many of the usual suspects) in Pilanesberg, a very scenic Big 5 reserve just 45 minutes away -- it even has a lake and observation deck for bird watchers.

Right next door is Sun City and an excursion there offers very different thrills! The Palace of the Lost City (the “Jewel of Africa”) has a striking architecture and its Valley of Waves pool ($15 entrance fee) is truly decadent. Step on its Bridge of Time when it shakes on the hour or just enjoy the myriad of entertainment.

So, there you have it. If you want a meaningful holiday, with either full-on or occasional interaction with African wildlife, you can unlock your dreams right now by logging on to:
www.holidayssouthafrica.co.za. Check out the various options and see where your heart takes you.

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An Unusual Ecuadoran Factory

By Gail Knight
ITWPA Member

As we were traveling to various sites, my Ecuadoran guide told me we would be visiting a very unusual factory in a small town on the equator, Cayambe, a largely agricultural and dairy farming community of about 30,000 situated at the foot of the dormant Cayambe volcano. After he parked the car on the main street of the small town center, we walked a couple of blocks east past several flower shops, then turned right to pass a couple more before entering a courtyard that held three small buildings, street vendors hawking their wares, and some tables shaded by trees.
On entering the center building, it became obvious my guide’s use of the word “factory” was accurate, but it was also intentionally tongue-in-cheek. Although there is no sign of the machinery or automation one might expect in a traditional factory, and the interior is about the size of an average pizza parlor in the U.S., the building does indeed house a factory -- and the product is melt-in-your-mouth, buttery, shortbread-like biscochos, or biscuits.

Made by hand and baked in a wood-fired oven, these biscuits are a traditional Ecuadoran treat, especially popular during the Christmas season. However, these biscuits, baked daily by the hundreds, are also shipped from this little one-room factory throughout the year to all corners of Ecuador and other parts of South America.
Well known to native Ecuadorans, the factory is located only two blocks off Cayambe’s main road, a short distance from the Pan American Highway about an hour northeast of Quito. Also located on the property are a small grocery store and a restaurant offering arguably the world’s best hot chocolate and a cheese made locally, queso de oja, which is typically dipped into the hot chocolate. (May sound like an odd combination, but it is actually very tasty!)

If you are on an equatorial quest to straddle the hemispheres, to balance an egg on end, or to compare the direction water swirls down a sink drain, be sure to stop along the way for some fresh biscuits in Cayambe, a stop that will add a very tasty experience to your travels within Ecuador.

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Jasper’s Icefields have Counted the Centuries

By Habeeb Salloum

For two days we gloried in the fantastic world of Banff National Park, enjoying its many natural and man-made attributes. We explored some of its castellated mountain peaks, dense forests, sweeping green meadows, turquoise lakes, sparkling rivers, and roaring waterfalls as well as its dazzling white snowfields. Now, we were leaving this scenic panorama for the adjoining Jasper National Park -- another majestic world of nature with very few equals.

A short time after crossing into this wonder of nature, we reached the Columbia Icefields, formed by six glaciers -- the largest accumulation of ice south of the Arctic Circle. Edged by 11 of the 22 highest mountain peaks in the Rockies, covering an area of 126 square miles, and averaging 9,840 feet in height, the six glaciers form a true continental divide -- their waters pouring, via the Athabasca and South Saskatchewan Rivers, into three different oceans: north to the Arctic, east to the Atlantic, and west to the Pacific.

We stopped by the Icefields Centre, a huge chalet-like stone building built to serve half a million visitors annually. Its location on a spot where one of the six glaciers (the Athabasca) is clearly visible makes it easy for visitors to walk to the glacier’s edge and gaze at the enormous expanse of crevassed ice.

Like hundreds of thousands of other tourists, we took the Snocoach Tour onto the icy slopes of the huge glacier. After a short bus ride, we transferred to a 56-passenger Snocoach -- a vehicle not found any place else on Earth. Especially designed and built by a Calgary-based company for the Columbia Icefields, it took us to the middle of the Athabasca Glacier.

As we moved along, our guide pointed to the edging glaciers. “They’re majestic! Are they not?” He went on, “But if they continue receding at the present rate, in some 650 years they will disappear.”

After returning from our 90-minute Icefields exploration, on the road again on our way to the town of Jasper 64 miles away, we entered a vast world of pine and spruce, emerald lakes and deep canyons, rugged sky-reaching snow-capped mountains, tumbling waterfalls, large wildlife-filled evergreen forests, and the Athabasca River -- one of the most historic and beautiful rivers in Canada.  

Making our way northward on the Icefields Parkway, considered to be the most scenic route on earth, we stopped numerous times to take pictures of wild animals by the roadside or on the mountainsides.

The scenic vistas kept us company until we reached the town of Jasper, 3,510 feet high and the main urban center and commercial heart of Jasper National Park. An overgrown village of some 4,500 in winter and 10,000 in summer, it nestles in the bosom of the Rockies amidst an unspoiled part of nature. The well-kept buildings, cuddled by towering snow-capped mountains, have made it an idyllic vacation mecca.

Jasper’s first-class tourist facilities make it easy for visitors to be comfortable and at the same time enjoy the many natural attributes of the Park. Restaurants and a varied selection of shops cater to the thousands of tourists who crowd the town, especially in summer. Here, also, whatever the season, travellers can partake in mountain adventures and make contacts with the animals of the wild.

That night, comfortable in our 4-star Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge in the town of Jasper, I reminisced about our exploration of Jasper National Park, and especially its Icefields. It had been a fulfilling experience. The sky-reaching glacier-tipped mountains, colorful and icy rivers, thundering waterfalls, endless forests, and above all the prehistoric Icefields made it a once-in-a-lifetime journey.

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The Canary Islands

By Bina Joseph

Eternal spring-like temperatures, 3,000 hours of annual sunshine, pristine landscapes, purest air, protected skies, traditionalism, 21st century mod-cons, an easily accessible Macaronesian eco-world of sustainable bio-diversity. Utopia? Almost. Islas Canarias.

Enveloped in an aura of mystery and legend, the Canary Islands were known in ancient times as the Fortunate Islands and were associated with the remains of Atlantis. An autonomous community of Spain, at the outermost edge of the European Union, they are geographically more a part of the African continent.

The musical-sounding islands are (from largest to smallest): Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, and El Hierro. Off the northwest coast of Africa, the juxtapositions, contrasts, and curiosities are endlessly fascinating.

The Canaries emerged from the ocean depths due to magmatic activity from the Miocene Age. The oldest islands are La Gomera, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, and Lanzarote. One of the most important volcanic regions, they are comprised of different volcanic rock present in cones, lava fields, craters, cliffs, caves, and underground galleries.
The volcanic origins are also responsible for the greatest degree of biodiversity on Earth. Varieties of landscapes include awe-inspiring volcanic lava flows, primeval forests, long extents of untouched beaches, deep ravines, lush valleys, towering cliffs, azure waters with unique marine life, and a plethora of species of flora and fauna. The Canaries have pledged to sustainable development, which is respectful of the environment of the islands.
The Canarians live and breathe tradition, taking an intense enjoyment in their local fiestas and celebrations. A rare combination of tradition with modernity, the islands demonstrate the perfect match between the two concepts.

Religious festivals coexist alongside pagan celebrations, reflecting the legacies of Spanish Conquest and aboriginal rites. Processions, street celebrations honoring the Virgin and saints, open-air dances marking significant days in the Catholic calendar, and pagan rituals inherited from the ancient tribes are all lively and interactive. The Canaries are home to unique Carnival celebrations which rival those of Rio de Janeiro or Venice: the streets are full of partying, masked people in fancy dress costumes, and everything is bathed in music, light, and color.

Tradition lives in the handicrafts, some produced by age-old techniques: ceramics, elaborate embroidery, stone-carvings, basketry, hand-crafted knives, and fine carpentry.

A truly unique feature, traceable to aboriginal times, is the Whistling Language. A landscape covered with ravines and dense vegetation rendered communication a great challenge. An ingenious solution was found. Fingers in mouths, they whistled, creating and expressing unlimited messages, producing the sound characteristics of a viable language. This is a variation of the Spanish spoken in the Canary Islands. To preserve it from extinction it has been declared a part of the world’s Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.

Gastronomically, the Canaries are influenced by the various cultures that inhabited this Atlantic archipelago. The main Spanish tradition is accompanied by American, African, and others. Canarian cooking is more than food; it is also culture, identity, and tradition.

Fresh products from the land and sea constitute ingredients for simple, exquisite dishes: fresh fish, roast meat, and steaming bowls of vegetable potage, accompanied by excellent local cheeses and wines. A typical dish is the versatile gofio, ground and toasted corn or wheat -- originally aboriginal food and still consumed today. Mixed with fish broth, vegetable soups, or even milk, it is the base for breakfast, main meal, and dessert dishes. The famous papas arrugadas (wrinkly potatoes), cooked in their skins, are eaten with the complementing mojo (spicy sauce).

Nature, abundant and exotic, is rife: the compact terrain harbors thousands of living species, many centuries old and exclusive. Plant species from millennia ago thrive here. The bio-geographical region called Macaronesia is an endless panorama of the diversity and survival of endemic botanical and zoological species that disappeared elsewhere in the Tertiary Period.

If you go:

Tenerife -- two World Heritage Sites, one National Park, and 42 natural protected spaces.
Fuerteventura -- a Biosphere Reserve of surprising landscapes and extensive plains produced by years of erosion and volcanic action.

Gran Canaria -- a “miniature continent” with its incredible variety of landscapes and microclimates.
Lanzarote -- the universal model of sustainable development by the World Tourism Organization.

La Palma -- “La Isla Bonita” (the pretty island).

La Gomera -- the National Park and UNESCO World Heritage Site of La Garajonay, a dense forest of notable fauna and flora.
El Hierro -- a paradise for underwater diving.

Seven islands, each unique, each magical, each a microcosm complete in itself, but together, one of the most desirable destinations in the world -- the Canary Islands.

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About August 2012

This page contains all entries posted to Travel Post Monthly in August 2012. They are listed from oldest to newest.

July 2012 is the previous archive.

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