Uncornered Market » Travel http://uncorneredmarket.com travel wide, live deep Mon, 04 May 2015 20:30:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Switzerland by Train: A Mother-Daughter Journeyhttp://uncorneredmarket.com/switzerland-by-train/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/switzerland-by-train/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 12:33:21 +0000 http://uncorneredmarket.com/?p=20478 By Audrey Scott

This is the story of why I went to Switzerland with my mom. It’s also a handy little Switzerland-by-train itinerary with recommendations and tips along the way. “Isn’t it hard to have your daughter so far away?” Angie, my mom’s friend from Basel, asked during our visit there. “Sure, but it’s kind of in the […]

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By Audrey Scott

Swiss Train
This is the story of why I went to Switzerland with my mom. It’s also a handy little Switzerland-by-train itinerary with recommendations and tips along the way.

“Isn’t it hard to have your daughter so far away?” Angie, my mom’s friend from Basel, asked during our visit there.

“Sure, but it’s kind of in the family. It actually began with my grandmother. She was from Basel,” my mom responded.

The story dates back to 1911, when my great-grandmother, then a young woman, fell in love with and was engaged to a young man, my great grandfather. Instead of insisting on tying the knot in Switzerland — I’m still not quite sure why — my great-grandfather set off for Argentina in hopes of finding better job opportunities and creating a new life.

Months later, my great-grandmother received word and some money for travel to join him. As an unmarried woman, she made the journey by train, then by boat from Switzerland to Argentina all on her own.

Talk about being ahead of the curve on solo female travel.

After her safe arrival in Argentina, my great-grandparents married and the rest, as they say, is history. My family story continues with my grandmother, my mother and me each leaving home for someplace far away when we were young.

For my mom, she re-established a connection to Switzerland after her parents moved the family there when she was 10. They lived in Geneva eight years, until the time she graduated from high school, whereupon she took a boat to the United States to attend university.

Wanderlust, you see, runs deep in my family.

Mother and Daughter Train Journey Through Switzerland - Geneva
Mother and daughter, reconnecting on a sunny spring day in Geneva.

So while Dan went off to Malaysia for a 10-day Vipassana silent meditation retreat (more on that soon), I hopped a train from Berlin to Switzerland with my mom so she could retrace a bit of her history. We spent ten days in Switzerland, beginning with the family roots in Basel, continuing with some of my mom’s favorite childhood spots and finishing with some new parts of the country, too. And we did it all on Switzerland’s fabulous — and prompt — train network, including a few of their famous Scenic Trains.

As we explored Switzerland, here’s what we found.

Bernina Express - Chur to Tirano, Switzerland
Inside the Bernina Express Panoramic Train, Tirano to Chur.

To skip ahead:

  1. A Photographic Journey of Switzerland by Train
  2. Tips for Traveling Switzerland by Train
  3. Using a Eurail Global Pass in Switzerland
  4. Switzerland Travel: Accommodation, Food, and Other Recommendations

A Photographic Journey Through Switzerland

Although I’d been to Switzerland before, this trip reinforced its essence: order, cleanliness, and plenty of mountains and lakes, all packaged in an often unbelievable fairytale backdrop. I was also amused to discover one of the supposed roots of the Swiss trademark promptness (which I somehow lost in the bloodline). It turns out that Calvinist churchgoers were fined for arriving late to church service. Hence, well-functioning public clocks were put in place to serve a holy purpose for the industrious.

Saint Bernard in Basel, Switzerland
A St. Bernard in Basel. So Swiss.

Switzerland may also not be known for its diversity, but that such a small country has four national languages (German, French, Italian and Romanish) is remarkable. You can feel and hear the regional differences, the quick shifts from canton to canton, and in between.

But if I’m perfectly honest, when I consider our time in Switzerland, I think most often of the stunning mountain and lake landscapes, perfect flower displays, and almost wickedly well-kept alpine villages.

Springtime in Switzerland - Montreux, Switzerland
Springtime in Switzerland.

Note: The photos below are in chronological order of our train journey to give you a sense of our itinerary and trajectory.

Basel – Geneva – Montreux – Cheese Train – GoldenPass Classic – Lucerne – Chur – Bernina Express – Zurich

Basel's Town Hall - Switzerland
Old Town Hall, Basel Marktplatz.
Vineyards and Snow-Capped Mountains - Near Lausanne, Switzerland
En route, Basel to Geneva by train. Vineyards and snow-capped mountains near Lausanne.
Geneva's St. Pierre's Cathedral - Switzerland
A view from our balcony in Geneva: St. Pierre Cathedral.
Rainbow and Jet d'eau - Geneva, Switzerland
Jet d’eau and a rainbow, taken aboard a public transport boat across Lake Geneva.
A beautiful little walk along Lake Geneva on our way to the Montreux train station, aptly named "Chemin Fleuri" (flower path). This is Switzerland in full springtime glory. via Instagram http://ift.tt/1b1DGja
A walk on the Montreux lake path. Stop, breathe, enjoy.
Château de Chillon on the shores of Lake Geneva with snow-covered Rochers de Naye in the distance. Montreux, you are spoiling us. #switzerland via Instagram http://ift.tt/1Dt4Z0V
Château de Chillon, Montreux. Looks like a fairytale, right?
Early morning reflections over Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), view from our balcony. This is Montreux, Switzerland. via Instagram http://ift.tt/1aDbV0a
Early morning reflections over Lac Léman (Lake Geneva), the view from our balcony in Montreux.
Cheese Train Begins with Wine - Montreux, Switzerland
Cheese Train begins with wine at 10:30AM? So maybe I am a bad influence on my mother…
Cheese Train from Montreux to Chateau d'Oex - Switzerland
The Cheese Train carves the hills above Montreux and Lake Geneva.
How Cheese Gets Made, Chalet Bio - Chateau d'Oex, Switzerland
How beautiful rounds of Chalet Bio cheese get their start.
Cheese Fondue at Le Chalet - Chateau d'Oex, Switzerland
How that beautiful cheese ends up, melted with a bit of wine, as cheese fondue.
GoldenPass Classic, eating in style - Montreux, Switzerland
A meat plate, wine, and a view of the mountains on the GoldenPass Classic. Not a bad ride.
GoldenPass Classic - Montreux, Switzerland
Bernese Oberland mountain views from the GoldenPass Classic, en route from Montreux to Zweisimmen.
En Route to Lucerne by Train - Switzerland
Interlaken to Lucerne by train, turquoise glacier lakes set in wrap-around mountains.
Lucerne (Luzern) Old Town and Covered Bridge - Switzerland
Lucerne’s Water Tower (Wasserturm) and famous Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrucke).
Chur City View - Switzerland
Chur, Switzerland’s oldest city, is our jumping off point for the Bernina Express train.
Arcas Square in Chur, Switzerland
Colorful Arcas Square, Old Town Chur.
Filisur Village, Bernina Express Train Views - Switzerland
Filisur Village, en route to the Bernina Pass.
Bernina Express Train Through the Mountians - Switzerland
Riding over the Bernina Pass (2,253m), Tirano to Chur.
Bernina Express Views, Mountains and Lake - Switzerland
More Bernina Express train views…
Frau Gerolds Garten in Zurich West - Switzerland
Frau Gerolds Garten in Zurich West – an urban space filled with art, pop-up cafes, restaurants, and good energy. Not exactly the traditional Zurich I had in mind.

Tips for Traveling Switzerland by Train

For such a small country, Switzerland features a vast rail system, including around 20,000 km worth of tracks that cut through mountains and over passes in a manner you think ought to be impossible. Not only can you get almost anywhere and everywhere in Switzerland by train, but you travel through absolutely stunning scenery as you do. There are usually frequent departures (e.g., hourly) for connections between main cities and towns, making it easy to remain flexible with your itinerary.

Finding Swiss Train Schedules: I found SBB’s website easy to use to check train schedules. The site will indicate if a specific train is expected to be busy, which proves useful in deciding which train to take and whether or not to make a reservation. I also used Eurail’s Rail Planner App for checking train times on my iPhone. This app does not require an internet connection, so it’s great for travelers who don’t happen to have mobile data (or wish to save their bandwidth for something else).

Getting Advice on Switzerland Train Itineraries: When we gave a talk on Haiti in London earlier in the year at the Destinations Show, I stopped by the Switzerland stand to ask for itinerary advice as I was worried about trying to squeeze in too much. I received advice on the spot from Switzerland Travel Centre (STC) that fortuitously flipped around my original plans. We continued the conversation on email to settle our final itinerary. STC is a sort of an all-Switzerland travel agency that advises on itineraries, books customized trips and sells Swiss train passes. STC takes care of transport logistics and accommodation, but in a way that allows customers to travel independently. Disclosure: STC kindly provided our train reservations on the GoldenPass Classic and Bernina Express, and organized our Cheese Train experience.

Storing luggage between seats: Unfortunately, we didn’t figure this trick out until the end of our journey. While some trains have storage racks at the front or end of the train wagon, many of the first class Swiss trains feature space between seats where you can slide your luggage on its side on the ground. Much easier than trying to lift it onto the racks above.

Affordable mobile data: If you have an unlocked smartphone, a mobile data plan in Switzerland is quick and easy. Swisscom offers a great deal where you pay 2Chf/day for unlimited mobile data (throttled after 2GB). Just buy a prepaid SIM card for 20Chf (you get that same amount in credit) and you’re good to go. Great coverage throughout the country, too.

Using a Eurail Pass in Switzerland

My mom and I each traveled with a 1st Class Eurail Global Pass in Switzerland (and Germany). This made it quite straightforward and easy to get around as reservations were not required for any of the regular (i.e., non-Scenic) trains we took. This provided lots of flexibility as we could decide on the fly when we wished to depart for our next destination, allowing us to shift plans as we went. For example, on my return I decided to stop off in Munich for the night to visit friends instead of heading straight to Berlin. Disclosure: Eurail kindly provided us with our Global Passes.

Choosing a Eurail Pass

There are endless options regarding which Eurail pass to choose. My advice is to figure out the general route you want to take and then see what the best option is for that route. For example, if you are only going to be in two or three countries, then one of the Regional Passes might be a more economical option for you than the Global Pass (28 countries). Eurail’s customer service is very responsive, especially on social media, so just ask for advice on what type of Eurail pass best matches your desired itinerary. Note: If you have a little flexibility with your budget, I can recommend that traveling in 1st class offers noticeable luxury and comfort: bigger seats, fewer people, and occasional free wifi.

Cost benefits of a Eurail Pass

Whether a Eurail Pass is cost-effective depends on your itinerary. If you plan only to take short trains in a limited area or region, then it might be less expensive to buy tickets directly. However, if you have some longer train journeys planned or you’re traveling in a country with expensive train routes (e.g., Switzerland) then it’s likely a Eurail Pass will prove cost effective.

To get a sense of whether a Eurail Pass makes sense from a cost standpoint, go to the website of the national railways service in the countries where you wish to travel and calculate the cost of your trip. Understand that some countries offer tickets that are cheap when purchased in advance, but nearly double in price when you buy them the day before or the day of the journey. Seat61 is an excellent resource for European train travel. Note: If the cost of buying tickets directly is similar to that of a Eurail Pass, go for the pass as it saves you the hassle of waiting in railway ticket lines and provides you with additional flexibility to change your plans as you go.

Understanding when reservations are required with a Eurail Pass

Here are the two easiest ways I found to obtain this information:

Eurail Timetable: Search for the route you want to take and the timetable will tell you whether a reservation is required, recommended, or not applicable at all. I used this to research our Berlin – Basel train and decided to make a reservation after seeing it was recommended. I was glad we purchased reservations and had assigned seats, as our train was full.

Eurail Rail Planner App: When you are searching for a train schedule within the app, select the option indicating “Trains without compulsory reservations.”

Using your Eurail Pass on Switzerland’s Scenic Trains

Switzerland features a collection of what they call “Scenic Trains” that occasionally require Eurail Pass holders to make separate reservations. You can find out the details of what is needed for each of the trains here.

Switzerland Travel: Accommodation, Food, Recommendations

Switzerland is not an inexpensive destination, especially after the government unpegged its currency, the Franc, from the Euro earlier this year. So it’s possible to travel more cheaply than we did, but when you travel with your mom, she gets to call the shots on budget and comfort level. Who was I to argue?

Geneva Practical Details

Accommodation: Hotel Bel’EspéranceRun by the Salvation Army, it would be hard to beat the location of this hotel. Rooms are simple, but very clean. Hint: bring food back to the hotel and eat dinner on the rooftop terrace as you watch the sun set over Lake Geneva.
Restaurants: Pizzeria da Paolo – We stumbled upon this restaurant our first night in Geneva and it is the real Italian deal – great pizza, roasted vegetables and salads. Super busy, so make a reservation or be prepared to take a drink at the bar until a table becomes available.
Geneva Public Transport Passes: Hotels often provide guests with public transport passes, so be sure to ask about this when you check in.

Montreux Practical Details

Accommodation: Hotel du Grand Lac ExcelsiorI chose this place because it mentioned “lake view” and boy, they weren’t lying (see below). From what we could tell, all rooms here face the lake (we were on the 3rd floor). It’s a bit of a walk from the Montreux train station, but the views are worth it. From the hotel it’s a 20 minute walk to Château de Chillon.

Balcony with a Lakeside & Mountain View - Montreux, Switzerland
My hotel choice in Montreux = mom approved.

Montreux Card: Your hotel will likely provide you with a Montreux Card, good for public transport and a discount for the Château de Chillon.

Cheese Train Practical Details

Tickets and Reservations: You can buy your tickets for the Cheese Train (runs December to April, Thursday to Sunday) at the Montreux Train Station. The price ranges from 39Chf to 89Chf depending on whether you have a Eurail Pass or Swiss Pass. Try to book in advance as the Cheese Train can fill up quickly.

In all honesty, we first hoped to take the Chocolate Train after seeing it listed as #1 on this list of top European Train Trips, but we were too early in the season (Chocolate Train departures begin in May). Chocolate Train meet bucket list.

Disclosure: The Cheese Train was organized and provided to us by Switzerland Travel Centre in London.

GoldenPass Classic Practical Details

GoldenPass Classic vs. Panoramic: Both of these trains take the same route. The Classic train has a rather cool, interior that harkens back to a bygone era while the Panoramic train features large, glass windows lending more visibility of the mountains around. The Cheese Train features wagons similar to the GoldenPass Classic, so if you’ve already take a GoldenPass Classic trip, then choose the Panoramic train for this segment.
Tickets and Reservations: While reservations were not needed for the GoldenPass Classic train that we were on, the conductor told us that during high season (summer months) reservations are essential. Even though they add extra wagons at that time, trains are often sold out for weeks in advance. We did not need reservations for the other two segments of the journey.
Food and drink: We were offered a smoked meat and cheese platter that was delicious. One would have been more than enough for the two of us. Given the high price of food in Switzerland, it’s actually a pretty good deal at 19Chf. Ideally, reserve one of these meat platters at the same time as you purchase your ticket or make your seat reservation.
Disclosure: Our reservation and meal on the GoldenPass Classic was organized and provided to us by Switzerland Travel Centre in London.

Lucerne Travel: Practical Details

Accommodation: Waldstaetterhof Hotel, Lucerne – If you are looking for a place near the train station (as we were), this is a good choice. Convenient location, comfy rooms and good breakfast included in the price of the room.
Lucerne Walking Path: We followed the Lucerne Tourism Office’s walking path of old town that is marked in red on their official maps. It’s a great walk that took us to the ramparts above the city, as well as into all the little squares and alleys through the medieval old town. Recommended.
Eating and Drinking: There are endless eating and drinking options along the Rathausquai where you can sit outside and gaze at the river. For something different we can recommend the vegetarian curries at Kanchi Indian Restaurant.

Chur Travel: Practical Details

Accommodation: Hotel Drei KönigeThis hotel serves as a convenient base for taking the Bernina Express train. It is about a 5-10 minute walk from the train station and on the edge of Chur old town. Our room was not especially large, but I believe there are other options.
Restaurants: We enjoyed a really lovely meal at Malena Empanaderia, a little restaurant run by an outrageously friendly Argentine family. Empanadas are the real deal, as is the homemade dulce de leche. Good salads and selection of Argentine wines as well. Da Mamma offers a good and affordable lunch deal.

Bernina Express Practical Details

Bernina Express Reservations: You can use your Eurail pass for the Bernina Express, but you need to get a seat reservation in advance if you want to sit in one of the panoramic cars (both 1st and 2nd class). We highly recommend this – the views with the wide windows are just fantastic.
Round-trip journey: We took the Berinina Express from Chur to Tirano (2 hour stop) and back to Chur. The round-trip journey was ideal. It makes for a 10-hour day, but it doesn’t feel that long. Also, as the light and angles are different each way it doesn’t really feel as though you are repeating the same territory. If you take the train only one way, then you would take a bus from Tirano to Lugano (separate seat reservation needed).
Taking photos from the Bernina Express: While the panoramic windows offer a great view, they don’t always make for the best photos because of glare and reflections. At the end of some of the panoramic cars there is a place whose windows can be adjusted and drawn. Several photographers shared the window to get clearer shots of the landscape and train.
Lunch in Tirano, Italy: It’s a nice bonus that you get to have lunch in Italy as part of the Bernina Express train experience. There are several restaurants right by the train station, but they looked a little too touristy for us so we walked into old town Tirano and had a wonderful lunch at Tratoria Gagin (Piazza Cavour 7, Tirano). It was full of locals. Food was good and prices reasonable.

Zurich Travel: Practical Details

Accommodation: 25hours Hotel Zurich West: We would never have discovered Zurich West — the tech, startup, artistic, and hip part of Zurich had we not stayed at 25hours Hotel Zurich. The hotel’s design and approach is just fun, from clever signage to thoughtful details in our room and in common areas. Just about everything features some sort of meaning or symbolism. After a week of cheese, smoked meats and heavy foods we also appreciated the light Israeli-inspired cuisine at the restaurant. Disclosure: Our night at 25hours Hotel Zurich West was kindly provided to us.

Relaxing in Lounge at 25Hours Hotel in Zurich West - Switzerland
Got a little too comfortable at 25hours Hotel lobby in Zurich and almost missed my train.

Exploring Zurich West: Even if you don’t stay in Zurich West, it’s worth taking the tram there to get a feel for “new” Zurich and to witness how a former industrial area became known for artists, creativity, and startups. Take a walk to the Viadukt and enjoy the big market hall and other shops and restaurants built under the train tracks. Then continue to the Freitag Tower, fashioned from old shipping containers, and finish your exploration with a visit to Frau Gerolds Garten. A very cool vibe.

Note: For the most part we booked the hotels above via Expedia (no, we do not have any affiliation with them) just a few days before we’d arrive in a destination. Employing this approach, we found the prices cheaper than booking directly with the hotel. Tip: always check both — direct booking and online travel sites — to see which option yields the best price. Note: We took our trip in the shoulder season. If you are traveling during the high season, you ought to consider booking further in advance than we did.

A big thanks goes to Eurail, Switzerland Travel Centre and 25hours Hotel Zurich West for supporting our train journey and experience through Switzerland.

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A Train Too Far? A Day Trip to Polandhttp://uncorneredmarket.com/szczecin-poland-day-trip-berlin/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/szczecin-poland-day-trip-berlin/#comments Tue, 07 Apr 2015 14:58:12 +0000 http://uncorneredmarket.com/?p=20385 By Audrey Scott

This is a story about going to Poland for the day, and the joy of deliberately infusing adventures into our everyday lives. Two large Tyskie beers kept us company as we waited for pierogies, savory Polish dumplings, to arrive at our table at a brewery restaurant in Szczecin, a town near the Polish-German border. Only […]

The post A Train Too Far? A Day Trip to Poland appeared first on Uncornered Market.

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By Audrey Scott

This is a story about going to Poland for the day, and the joy of deliberately infusing adventures into our everyday lives.

Berlin in a Manhole Cover
Starting our adventure, morning in Berlin.

Two large Tyskie beers kept us company as we waited for pierogies, savory Polish dumplings, to arrive at our table at a brewery restaurant in Szczecin, a town near the Polish-German border. Only hours before, we had been having breakfast in what was once West Berlin.

I considered the history of this region. For decades, freedom of movement in this part of the world simply wasn’t a concept. Borders not only existed, but they were also deliberate, apparent and imposing — all to deter people from crossing. Permissions were usually needed, if they were ever granted at all. Heck, in Berlin an elaborate wall existed to keep people out or in, depending upon how you looked at it and which side of the thing you happened to be on.

Across the whole of what is broad-brush referred to as Eastern Europe, this really wasn’t very long ago. The recent history of the region — from its World Wars to its Cold War — stands as a cautionary tale of the devastating effects of the blind rage of man, as well as testament to her ability to pick up the pieces and move on. Evidence as to how real change, even amidst seemingly impenetrable darkness, remains possible.

Countries, places, people, citizens — are not static.

From the consideration of great shared struggle and the friction-free invisible border between Germany and Poland that I’d passed only shortly before, I took another sip of Polish beer and settled back down to something personal. I reflected on how, even without physical borders, we humans are often tempted to draw barriers in our minds — barriers that prevent us from seeing and realizing new possibilities.

I reflect on my own situation — how lately I’ve felt as though I’ve been making excuses, putting things off. “When there’s more time, I’ll do it,” I say to myself. “When there’s a better time…” I rationalize. The problem is that this sort of deferment sometimes has a habit of becoming permanent. So it remains up to me to create the time — even when life feels “busy” — to do the things that need doing, the things I want to do. And then act on that. Otherwise, I run the risk of looking back and wondering ‘What if?‘ That’s not something I wanted for my life.

Szczecin on an early spring day - Poland
Szczecin’s old town on an early spring day.

In fact, just a few days before, when Dan suggested going to Poland for the day, my initial response was, “Isn’t that kinda far to go for one day?”

Maybe. Maybe not. Regardless, isn’t “Why not?” a better starting point in the art of possibility?

To ask that question, to flip the orientation – it takes a re-framing to imagine what’s possible. Once I have made a decision and chosen to act, my life has proven time and again that the rest follows.

And so there we were: two hours and two trains later, in Poland, waiting for plates of pierogies. Going to Poland for the day was a decision pit against a never-ending list of things that “needed” doing. But it felt right to head out on a wee journey for the day and to reflect on where we are and understand a little better this part of the world. Berlin to Western Poland, a stretch that witnessed devastation, then isolation, and most recently rebuilding and creation anew.

Beautiful Plate of Pierogies in Szczecin, Poland
A delicious plate of homemade pierogies. Alone, worth the train journey.

“We’re in Poland!!” I did a little dance in my chair, shuffling my hands and feet — to Dan’s surprise…or perhaps chagrin. Ah, the little things.

Walking the Red Line

Szczecin, the subject of our day trip, was completely new to us. We had little idea what we would find. But that is adventure, after all.

When people ask us for travel advice on how to explore a new city, our first suggestion is to walk. Driving just isn’t the same. It’s too quick, too distant from the tactile, sensory interaction with one’s surroundings. Walking yields a quite literal on-the-ground feel of a place – not only what it is now, but often echoes of where it’s been and also where it hopes to go.

Audrey Photographs the Pomeranian Dukes' Castle in Szczecin, Poland
Photographing the Pomeranian Dukes’ Castle in Szczecin. Sporting a pair of Rockport Welded T-Toe Sneakers, comfortable for walking streets old and new.

By walking, you notice the unevenness of a medieval cobblestone street or the broken sidewalk under your feet. Moving slowly on foot allows you to better absorb, to take in the street art hiding in a corner, the smell of sweet poppy seed pastries emerging from an oven at the local bakery, the brightness of newly placed roof tiles amidst the old, and the pace at which local people move about you to and from work or school.

We were prepared to walk and explore for hours and hours, as we were testing out new Rockport Shoes for this adventure. Not only did they hold up to our tough usage, but they were well suited for the freak April storms by drying quickly and being light. And trust me, comfortable and dry feet do really matter. A lot.

Smoking Rat - Street Art in Szczecin, Poland
The smoking rat. Clever street art in Szczecin’s old town.

We are notorious for getting lost, even in places where everyone tells us it’s impossible to do so. Fortunately, the town of Szczecin is made for people like us: there is a red line literally painted on the ground to follow around the contours of its old town.

Peter and Paul Church - Szczecin, Poland
Peter and Paul Church in a moment of sunshine.

Szczecin Along the Oder River, Poland
Along the Oder River, hints of Brick Gothic meets industrial architecture.

So we walked the red line. We traced it, jagging in to catch a glimpse of a 13th century city wall or 15th century church, and then cutting back out again on the main road to follow the Oder River, taking the more than occasional detour along the way. For us, it’s all about the scavenger hunt: around corners, through courtyards, down cobbled alleys, to the foot of a castle wall.

Sites, sights, and the everyday.

Exploration without expectations can be liberating. To just go and see for ourselves and find where our feet — and perhaps even more importantly, our minds — might take us. This is how we gather experience and form who we are and our view of the world. We steal bite-sized experiential pieces of the world around us and commit them to our sense of the greater shape of things…and our place in them.

Dan catches snowflakes on his tongue - Szczecin, Poland
When Mother Nature gives you a freak snow storm in April, respond accordingly by eating “snow peas.”

Local Dinner, Broader Perspective

With just a few minutes to spare, after a dash to catch a photo of a bridge and a couple of last looks on the train platform, we hopped the train back to Berlin. The idea: to arrive just in time for dinner at our favorite little Italian bistro in the neighborhood. We caught the last empty table before the dinner rush, after which reservations would become a must.

We sat at a table in the corner and watched the theatre of a small, family-run restaurant unfold before us. Two waiters flitted between tightly-arranged tables — balancing wide bowls of pasta on the palms of their hands in one pass, carrying healthy carafes of wine on the next.

Amidst the managed chaos, our waiter, a dead ringer for a young Freddie Mercury, offered us complimentary shots of grappa at the end of our meal. “Please sit and enjoy this. Take your time,” he insisted, as a wall of hungry people stood waiting at the door.

From little shot glasses, we sipped our grappa, a perfect finish after a rich meal of homemade pasta with wild duck ragout and grilled polenta with salsiccia. As the warmth of the grappa consumed me, I reflected on the decision to go to Poland, a place that once seemed too far out of reach for just one day.

It only took a shift in mindset to realize that it really wasn’t that far after all. Distance is all too often in the mind.

Waiting for the Train in Szczecin, Poland
Have train pass, will travel. Rockport Washable Oxfords, light and comfy. Good in rain, too.

“But I don’t have a country two hours away from me by train,” you object.

You don’t need one. You just need a place, a new place, a place unknown to you that your mind assumes is just out of reach. A literal place, maybe a figurative place. A place that may even be in your hometown or just nearby, but a place that you know you want to experience nonetheless.

So grab a map. Choose a direction. Go. See what you find. Open yourself up. Walk the streets. Notice the details. Then, get a bit lost. Reflect. And when you do, reserve some space for the expected, the unexpected and a healthy does of gratitude, regardless of what you’ve found.

We tell ourselves that there’s not enough time — oh, the precious, limited resource that it is. However, when we challenge that assumption, we reward ourselves with possibility, the possibility of a mini adventure for one day, and also for life.

So that was my day trip to Poland, book-ended by Berlin, wrapped in a web of history that leaves my mind always wondering, sometimes wandering. Racing. And even though my trip to Poland this time was short, I’m grateful for the experience, and prefer it to never having had it at all.

Have you ever done something that perhaps sounded crazy at first, but then you thought: why not?

—-

We’d like to thank the folks at Rockport Shoes for asking us to think about the role of adventure in our daily lives and to share one of our days as part of their #MyDailyAdventure series and campaign, of which this article is a part.

You can also take part in the fun and have a chance to win weekly prizes! Share your own daily adventure by uploading a photo and story to Instagram using the hashtags #MyDailyAdventure and #Contest. Be sure to tag @RockportShoes to ensure that you are automatically entered into the prize drawing. Make sure you submit your entries by midnight on May 14, 2015. You can see all Terms & Conditions here.

Additionally, we have a special Rockport Shoes discount code for our readers. Just go to the online shop and use discount code ROCKUNCORNEREDMARKET25 when you check out to receive your 25% discount! Fine print: sale items excluded.

Disclosure: We were compensated by Rockport Shoes to write this article as part of the #MyDailyAdventure campaign. As always, the thoughts contained herein — the what, the why, and the how — are entirely our own.

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Haiti Trekking: A Beginner’s Guidehttp://uncorneredmarket.com/haiti-trekking/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/haiti-trekking/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 12:04:26 +0000 http://uncorneredmarket.com/?p=20353 By Audrey Scott

The sounds of konpa, Haiti’s version of merengue meets jazz, floated from the kitchen to our spot on the front porch. We sat around a large wooden dining table, fleece jackets zipped up, our hands cupped around mugs of Haitian hot chocolate flavored with star anise, cinnamon, and Haitian bergamot lime rind. It was impossible […]

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By Audrey Scott

View from Pic Cabayo in Parc Nacional la Visite - Haiti
Pic Cabayo, towards a slice of Haiti’s Caribbean Sea.

The sounds of konpa, Haiti’s version of merengue meets jazz, floated from the kitchen to our spot on the front porch. We sat around a large wooden dining table, fleece jackets zipped up, our hands cupped around mugs of Haitian hot chocolate flavored with star anise, cinnamon, and Haitian bergamot lime rind. It was impossible not to be caught up in the unexpected moment. The crackling musical improvisations hearkened to a bygone era and punctuated the cool, dark stillness around us.

The men in the kitchen called it “ball” music – as in ballrooms where men and women dance close, and the woman who don’t want to dance close use special elbow moves to keep the men at bay. The music looped and time slowed, just as our sensations had throughout our four-day hike in the mountains just above the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince.

When I had imagined traveling in Haiti, this was not what I had envisioned. But when we reflect on our journey in the country, it’s this moment — the quiet punctuated by crackling tunes, the crispness of the air and the stillness of a Haitian night in the mountains – that really sticks with me.

Perhaps you ask, just as we did before our trip: is trekking in Haiti even a thing?

Yes, it is. And it probably ought to be for more travelers. But it takes a little effort to organize.

Here’s why it’s worth it, plus all you need to know to plan a trek in Haiti.

Why trek in Haiti? (Hint: It’s not just about the mountain scenery)

Mountain trekking in Haiti? In retrospect, this should not have come as a surprise considering the country takes its name from the indigenous Taino Ayiti, meaning “land of mountains.” Haiti is covered with layers of mountains, within which exist networks of walking paths intended to get locals from home to markets, schools and nearby villages.

Haiti, Trekking in the Mountains
Homes on top of the hills, family farms and trails mark the Haitian countryside.

Trekking in Haiti is not just about the landscape, but an unexpected natural beauty grounded by culture and complemented by people who live amidst it. Whether you’re en route in a truck or on foot in the hills, you have a chance to meet and engage with people — kids on their way home from school, market-goers, farmers working the fields, women washing herbal tea in the streams.

Haitian Schoolgirl in the Mountains - Haiti
A Haitian schoolgirl on her way home through the hills.

In contrast to that of its cities, Haiti’s mountain pace slows considerably. Open space and details emerge, like the color and texture of the hills, forest aromas, treetop winds, and the briskness of air. After spending time in the bustle of population centers like Port-au-Prince and Cap Haïtien, we welcomed the change and began to better process and reflect on all that we had experienced.

The challenge with trekking in Haiti is that information regarding routes and logistics can be difficult to find. In fact, when we searched on Google before our trip, we almost gave up on the idea as the photos and articles were neither inspiring nor useful. Additionally, limited road and accommodation infrastructure can make it relatively expensive. If you have more time and flexibility, you’ll find that you have more options.

So that’s why we are writing this. To share with you what we did, how we did it, and the various considerations and practical details. In other words: all that we had wanted to know about trekking in Haiti before our trip.

Our Haiti Trekking Itinerary and Route

Day 1: Jacmel to Mare Rouge by 4×4
Day 2: Climb to Pic la Selle, drive to Seguin in Parc National la Visite
Day 3: Climb Pic Cabayo and visit nearby waterfalls
Day 4: Walk from Seguin to outside of Port-au-Prince

Note: It’s also possible to take this route in the opposite direction, from outside Port-au-Prince to Seguin to Mare Rouge and then to Jacmel (or back to Port-au-Prince). We took the approach above as we’d come from Jacmel and wished to end up in Port-au-Prince without having to backtrack.

Truck in the Hills of Haiti
Colorful trucks and buses in Haiti provide artistic inspiration and comic relief.

Jacmel to Mare Rouge

For most of our first day, we were in a jeep, climbing from the seaside at Jacmel into the mountains. We made stops in small villages and on random hillsides to enjoy the scenery and details — the drawings on a family gravesite, the stone walls built up on farms to prevent landslides, or the way the sun came through the occasional dark raincloud that passed. Roads were rough and we felt as though we were covering ground seen by few visitors.

Scenes from a Haitian burial ground. Tombs in rural Haiti include symbolic references to Vodou spirits known as Loa/Lwa and a even a few hints of the modern influence of Christianity on the local ritual. Taken en route to the mountain village of Mare Rouge from coastal Jacmel. via Instagram http://ift.tt/1zkF8mR
Tombs in rural Haiti include symbolic references to both Vodou and Christianity.

We also noticed jagged rocks poking out of the ground across the hillsides we scaled. Thinking they were some sort of special geological rock formations, we asked what they were. They are called “dentelles”, jagged teeth in the local Crèole, and are the unfortunate manifestation of logging, deforestation and erosion. Indeed, those rock formations are a unique are part of the earth, but they really ought to be deep below the soil. Instead, they reveal themselves as scars born of human activity.

Rock Formations and Erosion - Haiti
A Haitian hillside full of jagged teeth.

Once we reached our resting place for the night, Mare Rouge, we bundled up and took a walk out to a nearby hillside to lay in the grass and watch the sun set. Peace and serenity driven by the winds in treetops and interrupted only by the occasional voice from a distant farm.

Sunset at Mare Rouge, Haiti
We close our day with a sunset at Mare Rouge.

Practical Details:

Getting there: The roads go from “not great” leaving Jacmel to almost non-existent on this route. You need a really sturdy 4×4 jeep or ATV (all-terrain vehicle) and an experienced driver, as we had. Alternatively, you could do this on the back of a motorbike (i.e., hire a motorbike driver), but make certain your rear-end is steel-reinforced as the road contours make for a bouncy, lively ride.
Accommodation: We stayed at the Helvetas/MARNDR NGO guesthouse, the Mare Rouge forestry center that was built to accommodate park rangers and staff. They occasionally have extra room for travelers. You or your tour company will need to contact them in advance to determine if there is space available. Cost: $40/person including room and 3 meals. Note that you’ll also need to pay this fee for your guide and/or driver.

Pic la Selle

Pic la Selle is Haiti’s highest peak at 2,680m (8,793ft), and is located in Forêts des Pins (literally “pine forest”). From Helvetas, the hike to the peak takes a couple of hours at a leisurely pace from a drop off point in the forest. As you make your way up in elevation, you’ll register subtle changes in landscape and vegetation. The surprising smell of fresh pine might motivate you to question whether you are actually in the Caribbean.

Dan on his way to Pic la Selle - Haiti
Dan, on the way up to Pic la Selle. The vegetation changes with altitude.

As with any trek, it’s worth moving slowly, taking time to hop off the trail for views that will cut right across Haiti to the coast. Look away from the coast and you’ll take in even more mountains in the direction of the Dominican Republic. Set off early in the day to avoid haze.

Haiti's Mountains - View from Pic La Selle
A view from Pic la Selle to Parc National la Visite.
Pic la Selle Forest Ranger and Guide - Haiti
Dieusel, a park ranger and our guide, takes out the guest book at the top of Pic la Selle.

Practical Details:

Pic la Selle logistics: The head of the forestry district drove us to a drop off spot (a sort of makeshift trail head) to begin our climb to Pic la Selle. We also had a park ranger with us as a guide. He simultaneously kept an eye on the forest and phoned in information regarding locals chopping at the trunks of trees to harvest sap-heavy wood chips used to start cooking fires. Cost: $45/group for the transport and guide.

Mare Rouge to Seguin transport: This is another route with a rough road so you’ll need a sturdy 4×4, ATV or strong motorbike. If you’re not pressed for time, you can also walk this route. We spoke with one of the park rangers who walks the route in three or four hours. For ordinary folks looking to take in the scenery, plan on approximately six to seven hours.

Pic Cabayo and Parc National la Visite

The day we walked from Auberge La Visite to Pic Cabayo in the national park proved our favorite day of trekking. The clear skies certainly had something to do with it. Regardless, we were blown away by the expansive, breath-taking views at the top of Pic Cabayo. Mountainous layers that roll for as far as the eye can see. This is a Haiti we certainly never knew.

Hiking to Pic Cabayo - Parc National la Visite, Haiti
En route to the Pic Cabayo overlook.
At the top of Pic Cabayo, Looking Out Over Haiti
Dan attempts to capture all of Haiti’s mountain layers on camera, at once.
Haitian Farmhouse in the Hills
Passing farmhouses and small villages on our trek in and around Seguin.

Practical Details:

Accommodation: In Seguin, we stayed at Auberge La Visite, a small bed and breakfast with a large porch, rocking chairs and a very relaxed vibe. The food is all made from local ingredients, including an incredible salad sourced from locally grown vegetables, edible flowers and watercress from the base of one of the waterfalls we visited. There are only a couple of rooms available so try to email or call ahead. Cost: $80/person for a room, including 3 meals. It’s also possible to sleep in an air mattress-outfitted tent in the garden, but you’ll have to check on the price of this yourself. Disclosure: We received a 50% press discount during our stay.

Breakfast at Auberge la Visite - Seguin, Haiti
Breakfast at Auberge La Visite, plentiful and relaxing.

Trekking logistics: Although you can probably find your own way around the national park, we asked one of the staff at Auberge La Visite to be our guide to Pic Cabayo and the nearby waterfalls. Along the way, we harvested watercress and went chanterelle forest mushroom hunting. It’s an absolutely terrific day out, provided the weather cooperates. Cost: Around $25 for the group

Seguin to Port-au-Prince Area

“Are you sure we can’t get lost?” we asked, knowing our propensity to lose our way just about everywhere. Our final day in Haiti’s mountains involved walking, guide free, on our own towards Port-au-Prince.

“Don’t worry, there’s only one road to Port-au-Prince. Even you can’t get lost. You’ll know you’re close to the pickup point because there will be one last BIG hill,” our guide, Cyril, advised us before leaving Seguin the day before.

Famous last words.

We did find the one path leading from Seguin to Port-au-Prince and followed the steady stream of people walking in both directions. Many women, on their way to and from the market, balanced baskets full of vegetables or fruit on their heads. The road was rubbled, inconsistent and steep, making their posture and ability all the more impressive.

Women Balance Goods on Head - Haiti
An amazing balancing act, women carry goods to and from market on mountain paths.

Together with Barbara, a German journalist trekking with us, we challenged ourselves to greet everyone we saw with a “bon jou!” and polite nod. Often, people would smile and laugh, amused to see three white people wandering randomly along this road in the middle of nowhere Haiti.

The day’s most memorable reaction was courtesy of a little girl of about five years old who decided to have a dance-off with Dan. She would shake her hips and jump around in front of her house, and Dan would copy her — dancing his way up and down hill as we continued our walk. This lasted for about three to four hills until we were out of sight, but we could still hear her giggles echoing across the hilltops long after we could no longer see her. Oh, if only you could include experiences like this on an itinerary.

Haitian Houses on the Hillside - Seguin, Haiti
Haitian houses and farms on a hillside.

After several hours of up and down, passing homes and villages perched on the top of hills, breaking sweats across steep terraced farmlands, we were certain we must be close. A big hill appeared, so big that the local municipality had built cement steps to help people navigate it, especially in the rain.

“The big hill. Finally, we’re here,” we thought.

Proud of our efforts, we turned the corner expecting to see the jeep waiting for us. Instead, there was another big hill, perhaps even more imposing than the first.

We remembered the Haitian proverb:

“Dèyè mon gen mon.” Behind the mountain, there are mountains.

That’s trekking in Haiti for you.

Mountainous Haiti, en route to Port-au-Prince
Green hills at the end of the rainy season in Haiti.

Practical Details:

You will need to arrange a pickup on the side of the road near one of the villages on the approach to Port-au-Prince, as we did. Alternatively, find a motorbike driver that can take you to the nearest town to hop on a bus or tap-tap to take you into Port-au-Prince.


Trekking in Haiti: Other Considerations

Other treks in Haiti

To expand your trekking options in the hills above Port-au-Prince, ask your guide or tour company about trails around Furcy or Kenscoff. You can also do the route that we did from Port-au-Prince to Seguin to Mare Rouge by foot. If you have your own camping gear, the options become even greater for the routes you can take.

Additionally, the Bradt Guide to Haiti by Paul Clammer has advice on different trekking routes and options around the country. It’s also just a great guide for general travel in Haiti.

Best time to trek in Haiti

While trekking in Haiti is technically possible year-round, the best times are December to March when there is no rain. We trekked in late November and lucked out on weather, but a colleague took a similar route the week before and had to cut back some of his plans because of downpours. We have also been advised that July to August can also be good.

Haiti’s deforestation problems

When we mention trekking in Haiti, we’re often asked about the environmental situation. Many people have seen this dramatic aerial photo showing the border between Haiti and Dominican Republic.

Sadly, deforestation is a real and significant problem. Its history began with French colonists who cleared land for plantations. The problem has worsened in the last century due to a growing population needing to feed itself and that uses charcoal to cook. The accommodation providers we used on this trip all work in some capacity to reforest and educate local communities on the benefits of planting trees and using alternative cooking fuels. So the money you spend with them and on official local guides supports programs attempting to address these environmental problems.

What to bring with you

To avoid repetition, we suggest you check out our Ultimate Trekking Packing List for suggestions of what to bring with you. As food and shelter is provided everywhere in the route we cover above, you don’t need to pack much outside of good hiking shoes, some cold weather gear (e.g., fleece, waterproof/windproof jacket, hat), refillable water bottle, sunscreen, and snacks.

Note: During the time of year we hiked it gets chilly in the mountains, especially at night. So it’s worth carrying a few layers to ensure you are comfortable.

Trekking in Haiti independently or with a guide?

Trekking in Haiti, because of road infrastructure, infrequency of public transport in outlying areas, and limited accommodation options, is not something you just pick up and do on a whim. Unless, that is, you carry your own camping gear, have unlimited time on your hands and fluently speak the local language, Créole.

We met some Haitian people and long-term expats living in Haiti who opted to trek without a guide. However, if you are just visiting Haiti for a short time, we recommend you consider very seriously having a Créole-speaking guide so you can ask questions, engage in meaningful conversations with local people, have context regarding what you are seeing and experiencing, and avoid getting lost.

We coordinated our trek with Jean Cyril Pressoir of Tour Haiti, a local tour operator that also works with G Adventures. Cyril is quite passionate about Haiti in general, and especially about trekking in the country. We also used local guides at Mare Rouge and Seguin.

Tour Haiti also provided us with the 4×4 transport we needed to get from Jacmel to Mare Rouge to Seguin. This isn’t inexpensive, so it helps to pull in other travelers to help share the cost.

For more photos from our trekking in Haiti, check out our photo essay.

Any other questions about trekking in Haiti, just ask below in the comments!

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Disclosure: The trekking experiences above were organized and paid by us. However, our flights to Haiti (and other Haiti travel experiences) were provided to us by G Adventures in cooperation with its Wanderers in Residence program.

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Our Offbeat Hot List: 8 Destinations You’re Not Considering…But Shouldhttp://uncorneredmarket.com/off-beat-travel-destinations/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/off-beat-travel-destinations/#comments Wed, 07 Jan 2015 18:09:28 +0000 http://uncorneredmarket.com/?p=19899 By Audrey Scott

There are plenty of “2015 Hot Travel Destination” lists circulating, even though the dust has settled a bit on looks forward. As we field questions about our own favorite destinations, most memorable experiences and where we recommend people to travel this year, we thought we’d add a twist to the traditional 2015 travel lists and […]

The post Our Offbeat Hot List: 8 Destinations You’re Not Considering…But Should appeared first on Uncornered Market.

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By Audrey Scott

There are plenty of “2015 Hot Travel Destination” lists circulating, even though the dust has settled a bit on looks forward. As we field questions about our own favorite destinations, most memorable experiences and where we recommend people to travel this year, we thought we’d add a twist to the traditional 2015 travel lists and share some places that might not be on your travel radar — but maybe should be.

In travel marketing speak, one might call these emerging, recovery or even under-discovered destinations. But in our experience, they are simply fascinating places that travelers are either unaware of or actively avoid from a travel perspective. They are the sort of destinations that push you emotionally, sometimes physically, and always challenge you mentally — all with the result of returning you from your trip with a different view of the world and quite often with a different view of yourself.

Here’s the caveat. These places are not for everyone; they are not a universal fit for travel goals and style. They are the sorts of destinations in which things may not always go as planned; hotels and transport can even be a bit rough. Much time is spent outside the proverbial comfort zone in attempts to immerse yourself in a new culture, comprehend challenging socio-economic circumstances and process the stimuli swirling about you. Some days can even feel difficult.

But there is a payoff. If you were to sit down with us over a beer and ask: “I want to go somewhere different from what I’m accustomed to. I’d like a place that will make me think, feel and question some of my assumptions about the world and myself. Someplace not very well touristed, with a bit adventure and the unknown. Where would you suggest I go?

Here’s where we might suggest you go in 2015.

1. Kyrgyzstan

Line of Horses and Peak Lenin - Sary Tash, Kyrgyzstan
Kyrgyzstan is filled with stunning mountain views like this one of Peak Lenin.
Kyrgyz Man Drinks Tea Outside Yurt - Song Kul Lake, Kyrgyzstan
First snow of the season at a shepherd’s village near Song Kul Lake, Kyrgyzstan.

Why: To experience a country that is over 90% mountainous and littered with stunning landscapes. Add to that, a taste of traditional nomadic culture with a bit of a Soviet hangover, and you have the makings of a unique yet approachable destination. This makes Kyrgyzstan a great fit for trekkers and outdoor types, as well as those interested in culture and off-beat experiences. There is a terrific community-based tourism network throughout the country that makes it easy to connect and interact with locals. These networks can also organize mountain treks on horseback, homestays, and overnight yurt experiences.

Read more on Kyrgyzstan:

Kyrgyzstan Photo Essays

2. Iran

Fisheye of Hallway in Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque - Esfahan, Iran
Eye-bending Persian design at Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque in Esfahan.

Staying Warm in Iranian Mountains - Masuleh, Iran
Adopted in a village in northwestern Iran.

Why: To travel to a country where the on-the-ground travel experience couldn’t be more different than impressions left by the news. Iran also features some of the most impressive historical sites we’ve ever seen (including 17 UNESCO sites). Visiting 2500-year-old Persepolis, once the capital of ancient Persia, is a lesson not only in the strength of the Persian Empire, but a perspective regarding how civilizations and power come and go. Eyeball-bending Persian design and architecture that holds the gaze can’t be missed either. In addition to Iran’s Big Three (Shiraz, Esfahan and Yazd), expand your sense of the country with a visit to the northwestern part of Iran for even more surprises like fairy chimney villages and Armenian monasteries.

And again, it comes down to people. That’s what may surprise you most about Iran.

Note: Obtaining a tourist visa for citizens from the United States, Canada and United Kingdom can be tricky. Be sure to check out this article on how to get an Iranian visa (including the vast comment thread) for all you need to know.

Read more on Iran:

Iran Photo Essays

3. Republic of Georgia

Drop-off Point - Svaneti, Georgia
A ride into the high Caucasus mountains (Svaneti) turns into an adventure.

Sioni Cathedral and Narikala - Tbilisi, Georgia
Tbilisi reveals itself in layers, both architecturally and culturally. One of our favorite cities.

Why: Despite all the history and remarkable mountain landscapes, the Republic of Georgia, at its very best, comes back to the Georgian people. Cross hospitality-obsessed with crazy gregarious and you’ve got a sense of the Georgian people. Add to this beautiful mountain ranges, a culturally and architecturally eclectic capital city, some of the most spiritual churches we’ve experienced, and incredible food. Then you’ll understand why Georgia is one of our favorite places in the world. We joke that in Georgia, one doesn’t need to make plans as the people you meet seem to create the adventures for you.

Read more on Georgia:

Georgia Photo Essays

4. Bolivia

Mother Nature's Exercise in Small - Salar Tour, Bolivia
Hot springs en route to the Salar de Uyuni.

Joy - Political Rally in Tupiza, Bolivia
A young Bolivian mother at a gathering in Tupiza.

Why: Stunning and often surreal landscapes blended with a strong indigenous culture. For various reasons, travelers often skip Bolivia in favor of its neighbors — Peru, Argentina, Chile — when making their way through South America. For Americans, some say it’s because of the visa fees and paperwork, but Bolivia is more than worth the extra spend and brief bit of bureaucracy. The Salar de Uyuni and in particular the journey from Tupiza features some of the world’s most beautiful and otherworldly landscapes with green lakes, Dali-esque rock formations and the mind-bending salt flats. And although you’ll see tourists around the Salar, you see much less throughout the rest of the country. We recommend stopping by Lake Titicaca and taking a hike around Isla del Sol, Tarija in the south for a taste of the Bolivian wine scene, Potosi to understand the realities of mining on people and communities, Sucre for a beautiful colonial city and La Paz for the capital with the most dramatic mountain backdrop. Personally, I’d love to return to Bolivia to take on some of these treks.

Read more on Bolivia:

Bolivia Photo Essays

5. Ethiopia

Hiking in the Gheralta Mountains - Tigray, Ethiopia
Hiking down from cave churches tucked in Gheralta Mountains of northern Ethiopia. An incredible experience.

Church of St. George, Lalibela - Ethiopia
Church of St. George. Carved top-down from red volcanic rock in the 12th century.

Why: Ancient rock-hewn churches carved from below ground, remarkable mountain landscapes, castles, ridiculously large plates of delicious local food. Need we say more? Ethiopia surprised us in so many ways, especially with its depth of history and culture dating back over 2,000 years to the Aksumite civilization and the adoption of Christianity in 330 A.D. (the 2nd Christian nation in the world). One could feel a direct connection between Ethiopia’s past and present through its adherence to ritual. We also weren’t expecting to be awed by its mountains and trekking options available in the Simien and Gheralta Mountains.

Read more on Ethiopia:

Ethiopia Photo Essays

6. Bangladesh

Boats Bringing Produce to Market - Bandarban, Bangladesh
Market day in Bandarban, Bangladesh (Chittagong Hill Tracts).

How to Imitate a Tiger in Bangladesh
Asking kids to imitate a tiger (name of the Bangladeshi cricket team) on the streets of Old Dhaka.

Why: To truly get off the tourist path and immerse yourself in a sea of humanity. We’re certain there are more tourists now, but during our five-week visit there a couple of years ago, we saw a total of five tourists. Bangladesh is funky. It’s intense. It’s Bangladesh. And the country actually offers more diversity in sights and experiences that you might first expect, from UNESCO pre-Moghul mosques and cycling through tea estates to tracking tigers in mangrove forests and visiting ethnic minority areas. But it’s the human interactions — and boy, are there a lot of them — that make visiting Bangladesh such a unique experience.

Read more on Bangladesh:

Bangladesh Photo Essays

7. Pamir Highway and Mountains (Tajikistan/Kyrgyzstan)

Donkeys Walking Home - Wakhan Valley, Tajikistan
On their way home to Langhar in Tajikistan’s Wakhan Valley. On the other side of the river is Afghanistan and in the distance, Pakistan’s Hindu Kush mountains.

Yamchun Fort  - Pamir Mountains, Tajikistan
Ruins of the 12th-century Silk Road Yamchun Fort against the backdrop of the Pamir Mountains.

Why: To enjoy a road trip adventure in a mountainous region that not only stands out for the severity and beauty of its landscape, but also shines for the colorful, hospitable and fascinating Pamiri people who live there. The Pamir Highway, roughly speaking, begins in southern Kyrgyzstan and winds its way through Tajikistan, passing by some of the most spectacular scenery we’ve seen on our around the world journey thus far. As tourism infrastructure in this area ranges from little to none you’ll likely stay and eat with Pamiri families most of the time, one of the great joys of this journey. (There’s more in our Pamir Highway slideshow for BBC Travel.)

Read more on the Pamir Mountains:

Pamir Mountains Photo Essays

8. Haiti

View of Haiti's Southern Coast, in the Hills Above Jacmel
Mountains and coastline of southern Haiti.

Shy Haitian Girls - Milot, Haiti
Shy sisters who live near the sugar cane plantations of northern Haiti.

Why: Because Haiti is surprising, complicated and fascinating. Sure, the country has some beautiful white-sand beaches, but it’s the artists, musicians, waterfalls, hilltop fortresses, cave networks and the mysteries of Vodou that will likely leave the most lasting impressions on you. Although Haiti is only 1.5 hours away from Miami by air and shares the same island landmass as popular vacation destination Dominican Republic, it only sees a relative handful of travelers each year. At least for now.

Read more on Haiti:

Haiti Photo Essays

So, what did we miss? Which destination(s) would you add to the list?

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Year in Review: Best Travel Instagram Photos of 2014http://uncorneredmarket.com/best-travel-instagram-photos-2014/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/best-travel-instagram-photos-2014/#comments Mon, 29 Dec 2014 20:02:34 +0000 http://uncorneredmarket.com/?p=19861 By Audrey Scott

The end of the year is almost here. For many, us included, it is a time to take stock of one year’s passing before moving onto the next. We take pause before the champagne gets pulled out on New Year’s Eve for reflection, gratitude, and perspective on life, work and travel. In full disclosure, 2014 […]

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By Audrey Scott

2014 Instagram Photos
The end of the year is almost here. For many, us included, it is a time to take stock of one year’s passing before moving onto the next. We take pause before the champagne gets pulled out on New Year’s Eve for reflection, gratitude, and perspective on life, work and travel.

In full disclosure, 2014 wasn’t the best of years for me. I lost my step-father and my grandfather earlier in the year, two people with whom I was very close. They were both inspirations to me in the importance of giving back, humility and telling great stories. They were always supportive of us and this site, even if neither could navigate the internet and understand exactly what we did, and they believed in the power of storytelling in bridging differences and bringing people together.

It seems as though each year we think we’ve slowed down on the travel front, but a quick look through our Instagram account provides perspective on how that’s not exactly the case. Dan has an amazing ability (proud wife here) in these iPhone images to capture details, feelings, and a sense of a moment that all conspire to bring me back instantly to that place — whether hanging off a cliff in the Gheralta mountains of Ethiopia or sampling Riesling along the Rhine Valley. We are grateful for those moments and for all the people we met who shared of themselves and their culture.

We hope you enjoy just a few of these favorite moments this past year. So without any further ado, let’s get to the best travel Instagram photos of 2014!

1. Up in the Air

Up in the air, Istanbul
Istanbul, up in the air on a clear day. En route to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Up in the Air runner up: Spying on the Queen while flying over what I think is Windsor Castle on the way into London Heathrow.

More Up in the Air photos: Photos from the Airplane Window

 

2. Ethiopia

Gheralta Mountains of Ethopia
Late afternoon descent, Gheralta heights. Phenomenal hike and rock climb to the hilltop monasteries of Maryam Korkor. This is peak Ethiopia.

Ethiopia runner up: Church of St. George. Carved top-down from red volcanic rock in the 12th century, Lalibela’s most famous rock hewn church.

More Ethiopia photos: Ethiopia, Best of Photos, Ethiopian People, Lalibela Rock Hewn Churches, Simien Mountains, Ethiopian food

 

3. Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg, La Petite France Canal
Peering down the canal, La Petite France. In town, pokin’ around before diving into the wine exhibition. A little bit of Alsace in Strasbourg.

Strasbourg runner up: Strasbourg Medieval Towers.

More Strasbourg photos: Strasbourg Photos

 

4. Uganda

Uganda Road
Ugandan road after the rains”>Africa red, Africa green. Roads carving the jungle, etched by the rains.

Uganda runner up: An early afternoon hike from the water’s edge to the Lake Bunyonyi overlook, where a fresh crayfish curry and a cold beer await. Unexpected Uganda.

More Uganda photos: Uganda, Best of Photos, Instagramming Uganda

 

5. London

Kensington Gardens, London
Something just a little magnificent. London sunshine, a walk in Kensington Gardens to a view of the Albert Memorial.

London runner up: Little Venice, London. Worthy of a brush and easel on a sunny, just-spring day.

More London photos: London Photos

 

6. Rwanda

Mid-morning light, the deck outside our peaceful little perch ($12/night) above Lake Kivu -- near the Congo border in Kibuye, Rwanda. via Instagram http://ift.tt/1qMXH32
Mid-morning light, the deck outside our peaceful little perch ($12/night) above Lake Kivu — near the Congo border in Kibuye, Rwanda.

Rwanda runner up: Overlooking the "Twin Lakes" (Burera and Ruhondo) from Virunga Lodge in the hills outside Ruhengeri, Rwanda.

More Rwanda photos: Rwanda, Best of Travel Photos

 

7. Haiti

Sans Souci Palace, Haiti
Audrey takes a walk with a local girl named Mika-Josephine that we met at the beautiful ruins of Sans Souci Palace. Perched in the hills of northern Haiti and built by Henri Christophe after crowning himself King of Haiti in 1811, the structure knew a short life until the great earthquake of 1842 left it in the state we see today.

Haiti runner up: Trekking at Pic Cabayo, Parc Nacional La Visite. Difficult to choose the best view.

More Haiti photos: Haiti, Best of Travel Photos, Instagramming Haiti, Haitian food and markets

 

8. Tanzania

Today, we were profiling a @PlaneterraCares project outside of Arusha-Kilimanjaro, Tanzania that partners with a local organization providing efficient clean-burning stoves to Maasai communities. Once you step into a smoke-filled traditional home (and suffocate), you realize how remarkable and life-changing these stoves can be. The Maasai woman here was one of our hosts. She was dressed for a party following a circumcision ceremony for a group of boys on their way to becoming warriors in a nearby village. She invited us to join her. Stay tuned for more on the party... via Instagram http://ift.tt/1mtUNLV
Profiling Maasai women for a Planeterra Foundation clean stoves project in northern Tanzania. Our host was dressed for a party following a circumcision ceremony for a group of boys on their way to becoming warriors in a nearby village. She invited us to join her.

Tanzania runner up: Tanzanian sky. Maasai women gather from the surrounding villages, offering gifts and goats.

More Tanzania photos: Tanzania Travel Highlights, Maasai Village Visits in Tanzania, Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

 

9. Zagreb, Croatia

Early Morning in Zagreb, Croatia.
An early morning stroll in Zagreb, Croatia. Before the town hits its stride, it’s just monks, nuns, and bakers.

Croatia runner up: Rolling hills, bending rivers. This is the Bosnian countryside, from the train en route Zagreb to Sarajevo.

 

10. Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Of course, there be castles in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This one: the Citadel of Počitelj. If you are having trouble wrapping your tongue around how to pronounce that, consider that it was built in 1383 by King Tvrtko, whose dying words were purported to be, "Can I buy a vowel?" via Instagram http://ift.tt/1uqDPoA
Of course, there be castles in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This one: the Citadel of Počitelj.

Bosnia and Herzegovina runner up: Stari Most, the Old Bridge of Mostar, at sunset.

 

11. Berlin: 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Berlin Wall 25th Anniversary
25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (November 9, 1989). Taken from the East Side Gallery. Over a million visitors in town for the festivities, including the release of 8000 balloon lights from along a 15km segment of the wall.

Berlin runner up: A Berlin white-ish night sunset over the railroad tracks.

More Berlin photos: Berlin, Best of Travel Photos, Berlin Cheap Eats, Berlin Street Art

 

12. The Rhineland, Germany

Münsterplatz, Aachen
Münsterplatz, Aachen (Aix-La-Chapelle). A representative slice of the city’s architectural melange. Unsurprising given its proximity to Belgium and The Netherlands.

Rhineland runner up: Boosenburg Castle, Rüdesheim. A slice of the Romantic Rhine. If you’re drinking the wine, Rheingau is the region, Riesling is likely your grape.

More Rhineland photos: Travels Through the Rhineland: Aachen, Cologne, Rhine Valley

 

13. Best Beach Shot

Port Salut Sunset, Haiti
On the shores of Port Salut, southwestern #Haiti. Aiming for sunset, in the shade of a palm. Water is a beautiful carrier for some of light’s most life-affirming features: reflection and depth, color and warmth.

Beach runner up: South Beach Stopover. Kickin’ back at the lifeguard chair, considering the sunset.

More beach photos: Beaches around the world

 

14. Favorite Doorway

Doorway in Jacmel, Haiti
Favorite doorway candidate #36. Jacmel, Haiti.

Doorway runner up: Morning shadows and niches. Bethlehem, House of the Holy Bread, connected to Bete Maryam, in the 13th century New Jerusalem complex — Lalibela, Ethiopia.

More doorway photos: Doorways from around the world

 

Bonus: Most Popular Instagram Photo of the Year

While I do love the photo below, it did surprise me that this was the most popular Instagram image of the year. And I have to admit that it did give me hope that perhaps artistic photography can hold its own in this day and age when more popular topics like cats, dogs and sunsets tend to carry the day. Just maybe…

Kampala National Mosque, Uganda
A long way down. The spiral staircase of Kampala’s National Mosque. Afraid of heights? Don’t look over the railing.

Where will 2015 take you? Share the first step for making these life and travel dreams a reality below!

The post Year in Review: Best Travel Instagram Photos of 2014 appeared first on Uncornered Market.

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Travel to Haiti: First Impressionshttp://uncorneredmarket.com/haiti-travel/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/haiti-travel/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 13:54:27 +0000 http://uncorneredmarket.com/?p=19693 By Audrey Scott

Haiti. It’s a country that most people today still associate with earthquakes, coups, and unrest – a sort of irretrievable chaos. Before traveling to Haiti, we knew very little about the country. Even after performing our own research — let’s face it, there’s little information on Haiti beyond the headline news – we weren’t quite […]

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By Audrey Scott

Fishing Boats at Pointe Sable - Port Salut, Haiti
Dugout fishing boats take a rest for the day in Port Salut, Haiti.

Haiti. It’s a country that most people today still associate with earthquakes, coups, and unrest – a sort of irretrievable chaos. Before traveling to Haiti, we knew very little about the country. Even after performing our own research — let’s face it, there’s little information on Haiti beyond the headline news – we weren’t quite certain what we would find, experience or feel while there.

Haiti is complicated. Even Haitians will tell you that. Each time we thought we grasped something about Haiti, another event would intervene that would help us realize we had only just peeled back one layer of our understanding of the Haitian cultural onion. And that’s what makes Haiti so fascinating: it tempts one to question, to experience, to learn and to re-learn – an invitation to penetrate as closely as a visitor might to its innermost layers.

Sans Souci Palace in Ruins - Milot, Haiti
There be palaces in Haiti, too. Sans Souci Palace near Cap-Haïtien.

When we shared photos and updates while visiting Haiti, readers would respond: “Is that really Haiti?”

Welcome to Haiti. Time to become a little more familiar – with the everyday, the exceptional and the forces to be continually reckoned with.

1. Travel Safety in Haiti

Time to dispatch the elephant in the room. When we first announced we were headed to Haiti, responses of concern were not only common, but they often spelled expectations of doom. One reader, to wit, offered this: “I hope you survive.”

There’s no denying Haiti has historically experienced its share of instability over the decades. Between 2004 and 2006, kidnapping of wealthy Haitians, international executives and aid workers was common. In the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, crime and assaults increased. But as our visit to Rwanda earlier this year demonstrated, countries are not forever suspended in time: they change, they evolve, and many, quite thankfully, move on.

The streets of Haiti, just outside the main covered market of Cap-Haïtien
Wandering the market streets of Cap-Haïtien.

As foreign travelers in Haiti, we surprisingly never felt targeted or at risk – neither in the peace of its mountains or the din of its cities. It is true that much of the time we were with a group or with others, but even when Dan or I often peeled off to engage with people, explore markets and meander down side streets on our own, we did not feel anything menacing.

Of course, common sense and basic safety measures still apply. As in most countries (including my own, the United States), I would not wander inner city streets alone at night. As taxis are surprisingly uncommon in Haiti, even in cities such as Port-au-Prince, I would arrange return transport in advance so as not be stuck without a way back to wherever I happened to be staying.

If you pack some developing world travel sense and especially follow the advice outlined in #3 below, you’ll likely find yourself feeling pretty comfortable with Haiti and its people.

2. A Land of Mountains

Despite the fact that the word Haiti means “mountainous land,” we envisioned only a few hills here and there. Instead, the country is defined by layers of mountains.

We managed a glimpse of this on our flight approach to Port-au-Prince, but our first on-the-ground taste occurred on our hike up to La Citadelle Laferrière near the town of Cap-Haïtien in northern Haiti.

Rubbled Guard House of Citadelle Laferrière - Northern Haiti
A rubbled guard house near Citadelle Laferrière in hills of northern Haiti.

Our appreciation of Haiti’s landscape was complete with our hike up to Pic la Selle, Haiti’s highest mountain, and through nearby Parc National La Visite.
View from Pic Cabayo in Parc Nacional la Visite - Haiti
View from the top of Pic Cabayo. I meant it when I said layers.

It’s no wonder that Haitians say “Dèyè mon gen mon.” (Behind the mountain, there are mountains.) This Haitian proverb proved one of my favorites, as it’s not only appropriate to the country’s landscape but also metaphorically fitting to the country’s history and circumstances. “There is more than meets the eye” repeatedly rang true during our visit to Haiti.

3. “A greeting is your passport.”

Bonjou se paspò ou,” is another of a raft of available Haitian proverbs, one we learned early and put into practice often during our trip. Simple gestures such as saying “bonjou” (hello in local Kreyòl), offering a smile and nodding in respect tends to open doors of good will. Perhaps this is obvious advice, a generally accepted good travel principle, but it is particularly relevant to Haiti.

Losing at Dominoes - Cap-Haïtien, Haiti
Although he’s losing at dominoes (the clothes pins are “punishment”), we still get a smile.

On the surface, Haitians can sometimes show a stern, skeptical look that might not feel particularly welcoming at first glance. However, a respectful greeting and smile can help break down that tough exterior, thereby reducing some of the distance between you as the blan (literally meaning “white,” but slang for foreigner) and local people.

Haitians are a social bunch. Perfect strangers call each other cheri meaning “my dear” (I loved when I was referred to this way). With monikers like this, Haitians transform the atmosphere from the appearance of something serious to something more open and laughter-filled in a matter of moments.

It’s also important to note that, in general, Haitians don’t especially invite or seem to enjoy having their photograph taken. It’s completely understandable given that there has been a string of photojournalists who have focused mostly on negative aspects of the country; people are tired of that. Best to store the big camera and lens until you’ve established a bit of a rapport, ask for permission and have some fun with the process by showing the image afterwards.

Haitian Kids Goofing Off - Les Cayes, Haiti
Goofing with kids en route to Port Salut.

4. Vodou in Haiti

“Haiti is 80% Catholic, 20% Protestant and 100% Vodou.”

Often when people think of Vodou (or Voodoo, as we foreigners like to spell it) they imagine the Hollywood-branded version: pins stuck into a voodoo doll, evil curses placed, zombies roaming the earth. Perhaps it does not come as a surprise when we say that Vodou in reality seems a far cry from this.

We were fortunate to spend time with a Vodou hougon (priest) who was open to answering questions about his practice and spirituality when we visited his ounfo (temple). Vodou in Haiti is a complex belief system that blends traditions and practices from West Africa, carried by slaves brought over during the 17th-19th centuries, with colonial Catholicism and a few local twists. At the core of Vodou are the lwa, spirits which serve as intermediaries to assist human beings to communicate and connect with a single, distant God.

An Area for Offerings at a Vodou Temple - Port-au-Prince, Haiti
A table with offerings for the lwa at a Vodou ounfo.

There are hundreds of lwa, divided elaborately into societies. Each has his or her own characteristics and symbolism and ways in which they wish to be served. During a Vodou ceremony, a lwa will be summoned, and will often take over the body of someone present in order to provide spiritual and physical guidance and healing. A certain brand of emotional rawness is at work that yields an appreciation that death and life are in fact bound close together.

Vodou Stand at Marché en Fer - Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Vodou section of the market with candles, scents, images and various offerings for the spirits.

As one hougon explained to us: “Vodou, it is what you cannot see that is all around you.” The suggestion: our practice only manifests what is already there.

Once you comprehend this, you’ve set off on the road to understand Vodou and the Haitian approach thereto.

Note: If you are interested to learn more about Vodou and its practice in Haiti, consider reading The Serpent and the Rainbow by Wade Davis.

5. Renegade Artists

Haitians demonstrate a remarkable artistic expression. Where this is most obvious is in veins of renegade artist communities such as Atis Rezistans, a group of avant-garde artists who live and create along a segment of Port-au-Prince’s Grand Rue. André Eugène and Jean Hérard Céleur, the founding artists of Atis Rezistans, broke tradition by cultivating a censorship-free artistic expression that defied social norms. Almost 15 years later, Atis Rezistans operates as a collective guided by a philosophy of sharing and support that trains young artists through its Ti Moun Rezistans program.

A wood craftsman works away in an area near Atis Rezistans on the Grand Rue. Celeur, one of the Atis Rezistans founders, was a wood carver who broke free…

To me, the feeling in this artist community is one of undressed emotion and unfettered expression. It’s clear in the atmosphere and also apparent in the works themselves.

On the surface, the art appears to exist as if to shock, particularly to a visitor like me. But it becomes apparent that the intention of their work is to stand as an emotional interpretation of a cycle of life to death, with all the requisite fears, dreams, and sex that make us human laid bare.

Artists rely heavily on recycled materials, lending a sense of re-packaging and re-purposing of emotion. Discarded items are incorporated, life’s detritus finds new life. And maybe even new hope.

Atis Rezistans Art - Port-au-Prince, Haiti
A shackled baby, art made from recycled materials at Atis Rezistans.

“There is no death without life…there is no art that is not a liberation of the force of life. And when death is around you all the time, you try to profit from every day of life.” – Romel Jean Pierre, an artist and filmmaker at Atis Rezistans.

6. Everything tastes better with a few chili peppers, even peanut butter.

We knew almost nothing about Haitian cuisine prior to our visit, so we look forward to writing about it in depth and sharing it with you very soon. One of the facets of Haitian food that we especially enjoyed is its occasionally liberal and often creative application of spice and employment of chili peppers. As evidence, witness spiced peanut butter whereby a Scotch Bonnet or Habanero pepper is a thrown in with a batch of ground peanuts.

OK, heat in food I get. But spicy peanut butter?!?

Yes. And we can attest to its goodness.

Throw in Haitian hot chocolate, grilled lobster, plenty of beans, odd greens, breadfruit, avocados and dark rum and you have the making for some culinary joy.

But you’ll just have to wait for our Haitian food throw-down to hear more about all of it.

7. A Country Rich in Proverbs

No two ways about it, Haiti has a way with words. Its proverbs are deep and funny, often sad, sometimes crude, always clever. It occurs to me that Haitian proverbs are a manifestation of the country’s narrative, a form of storytelling, evidence of the importance of oral tradition in Haiti in sharing wisdom and lessons.

Tap Taps, Haiti’s colorful buses are also covered with sayings.

A day couldn’t go by when we’d question or notice something and hear in response: “We have a saying for that in Haiti.”

The proverb shared was usually one with a story behind it that helped peel back for us another layer of the cultural complexity that is Haiti — one part quirky and another dark, evincing a certain pliability or resilience that almost seems required of Haitian people given their country’s history. Honesty and a bit of reflective self-deprecating humor, too.

Even when things are bad, rise up a proverb to place it all in perspective and shed some honest light on all that we humans do, good and bad.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Note: We learned these through English translations; we imagine the versions in their original Kreyòl are even better.

Lang pa lanmè, men li ka neye-w.” — The tongue is not the sea, but it can drown you.

Bourik swe pou chwal dekore ak dentel.” — The donkey sweats so the horse can be decorated with lace.

Avèk pasyans w’ap wè tete foumi.” — With patience, you can see the tits on an ant.

If you are interested in further availing yourself of Haitian wisdom through its proverbs, here is a great list.

A note on language in Haiti: French is the language of schools and government, but Haitian Creole (Kreyòl) is the language of the people.

Although one could argue that Kreyòl is French-based, the differences between the two are greater than their similarities. You’ll notice some common words and vocabulary, taken from French and employed in Kreyòl, but Kreyòl is spelled differently than French and is more phonetic. Beyond that, the structure of the languages is quite different.

8. 2010 Earthquake Recovery, International Aid

A common question asked of us since returning from Haiti: Can you still see the effects of the 2010 earthquake? (The catastrophic one centered near Port-au-Prince that killed an estimated 220,000 people.)

As you walk around downtown Port-au-Prince, buildings that were destroyed by the earthquake remain abandoned. In the city’s Champs de Mar area where the Palais National once stood, the square is filled with red corrugated metal construction walls.

But life goes on. It must. The central market, the Marché en Fer, was destroyed but has been rebuilt. Vendors have returned, new communities have emerged in the ruins of others. Haiti is very much an example of rebirth in the face of devastation and destruction.

You can still find a prominent international aid presence in Haiti; some organizations were there before the earthquake, others arrived afterwards and haven’t left. As anywhere in the world where a large donor-funded international aid presence exists, you can feel the draw of a double-edged sword. The flow of donor money to help in Haiti’s recovery has done a lot of good. However, big aid begets pockets if not a prevailing attitude of dependency and reliance on foreign handouts that paradoxically crowd out local solutions and create distortions in the local economy for real estate and other goods. Help is needed, but so is the idea that the citizens of Haiti must also find solutions that are suited to their own needs and context.

Fishermen recycle banners from an AIDS awareness campaign as sails.

Haiti is clearly a fertile country. It’s disappointing to see it depend so much on imported food when one imagines it could produce so much itself. We sincerely hope that the will exists to pursue long-term investments in education, infrastructure and agricultural reform.

Easier said than done, we know. But we can see the potential.

9. Haitian Music and the Singing President

“No matter what we do we have the drum. When we have problems we sing and dance, when we are happy we sing and dance. There’s always the drum in Haiti” –  Maurice Etienne, Lakou Lakay Cultural Center

The beat, the rhythm, the undercurrent. The drum in Haiti.

Music is infectious in Haiti; rhythm seems deep in the bones. Drums and dancing are integral to Vodou ceremonies and practice, but the love of and prevalence of music carries to all aspects of life. It’s not uncommon to see workers unconsciously incorporating a few dance moves here and there as they stock shelves or work the market while listening to local music.

Haiti’s current president, Michel Martelly, is also a famous musician. Known better as Sweet Micky, Martelly and his band play konpa, a style of Haitian music derived from local Méringue (similar perhaps, but not the same as Dominican Merengue) that further blends Haitian folk music with an imprint of American jazz leftover from the U.S. occupation from 1914-1934.

One of our best memories of Haitian music involved the kitchen staff at Auberge La Visite in the mountains near Seguin. They listened to konpa endlessly. We found ourselves drawn into the kitchen to find out the name behind the catchy tunes and infectious rhythmic earworms — 30-minute long ball renditions of classic konpa — that consumed the building. Although the origin of these tunes is up for discussion, the voice most often behind what we heard: Sweet Micky.

(Note: If you happen to be in Port-au-Prince area on a Friday night be sure to go by Presse Café for a live konpa band and a wide open dance floor.)

10. Haitians Love Their Lottery

Everywhere you go in Haiti, from the tiniest of villages to the biggest of cities, you will see plenty of colorful outposts labeled bank. My initial thought: a vast and highly competitive micro-credit industry in Haiti?

Patience! A typical bank borlette, a Haitian lottery shop. Numbers are based on the draw of the New York state lottery. This one on the supremely colorful streets of Cap-Haïtien. We played a ticket for just short of $1. If we win? Thinking we'll quit our jobs and travel the world. via Instagram http://ift.tt/1ES4qfU
Placing my bet at the Patience borlette.

I was later informed these were borlettes, or Haitian lottery outlets. Lottery, it turns out, is a national pastime. For legitimacy, lottery numbers in Haiti are based on New York Lotto numbers, drawn twice daily. As one Haitian we met put it, “Are you kidding? No Haitian would trust numbers drawn here in Haiti!”

The idea: you purchase a hand-signed ticket indicating your choice of a series of 2-digit numbers. From there, a complicated betting option exists where you can “marry” your numbers together for bigger winnings should you guess correctly more than one number. Although I didn’t quite fully understand my betting options and the mathematical gymnastics embedded therein, I placed a bet on three numbers and purchased a double marriage to ensure I’d win the maximum were I to choose all three numbers correctly.

Here’s what happened:

Audrey Wins the Haitian Lottery - Cap-Haïtien
Winning the lottery in Haiti!! Woohoo!

I won!! I selected one correct number. From my 40 gourd ($0.90) bet on three numbers, I won 100 gourds (about $2).

As my new Haitian saying goes, “It’s not how much you win, but whether you win at all.”

————-

A huge thanks goes to Jean Cyril Pressoir, our G Adventures CEO (guide) in Haiti. He told great stories, knew a proverb for every conceivable life scenario, and never seemed to tire of our questions about his country.

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More Haiti Travel Resources

Grab a coffee and listen in to the Amateur Traveler Podcast below where we talk about our travels throughout Haiti — where we went, what surprised us, what we felt, and more.
Amateur Traveler Episode 455 – Travel to Haiti

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Disclosure: Our tour in Haiti was provided to us by G Adventures in cooperation with its Wanderers in Residence program. We stayed a few extra days to go hiking in the mountains on our own dime. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

If you plan to book this or another tour with G Adventures, please consider starting the process by clicking on the ad below. The price remains the same to you and we earn a small commission. Thank you!


G Adventures Deals

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A Maasai Circumcision After-Party [VIDEO]http://uncorneredmarket.com/maasai-circumcision-party-video/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/maasai-circumcision-party-video/#comments Mon, 24 Nov 2014 13:10:21 +0000 http://uncorneredmarket.com/?p=19567 By Daniel Noll

“There’s a circumcision party in a nearby Maasai village. Mela is inviting us to join her. Do you want to go?” Kisioki asked in the sort of unassuming manner one might use to ask a friend to a new restaurant around the corner for lunch. Circumcision party? After repeating the phrase and looking at my […]

The post A Maasai Circumcision After-Party [VIDEO] appeared first on Uncornered Market.

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By Daniel Noll

“There’s a circumcision party in a nearby Maasai village. Mela is inviting us to join her. Do you want to go?” Kisioki asked in the sort of unassuming manner one might use to ask a friend to a new restaurant around the corner for lunch.

Circumcision party?

After repeating the phrase and looking at my shoes, I ruminated on this concept, turning my knees inward just slightly, clenching muscles in my pelvic region I never knew I had.

“Sure.” I mean who in their right mind says ‘No’ to a Maasai circumcision party?

Note: If prose isn’t your thing and video is all you’re after, click here.

Laughter, Maasai Women - Tanzania
Laughter: a Maasai language, a universal language.

Along the way, as we wended our way through an acacia-dotted clay track creviced by recent storms, Kisioki offered a bit of background. Earlier that day, at dawn, in the village where we were headed, a group of Maasai boys aged between 16 and 18 years old had just been circumcised. More specifically, as the boys were cut, they were expected to stand perfectly upright unflinching and tear-free in front of a group of warriors and elders — all in a hopeful first step on the journey to becoming Maasai warriors themselves.

I was afraid to ask what the second step might be on the path to becoming a warrior.

Arrival, The Veldt

Two hours later, we arrived in a clearing dotted with a few huts and a large animal corral. Maasai villagers of all ages walked about perfectly upright with unassailably good posture. Men were dressed in dark cloth — red, blue, purple, some checked. All carried ceremonial fighting sticks. Women were decked out in bright, colorful jewelry made of tiny stringed beads — just as Mela, our host, had been.

Maasai Village, Warriors and Women - Northern Tanzania
Maasai warriors and women gather for the party.

Remember the first party you ever attended as a kid? Maybe you were one of the cool people and everything made sense as you fit in instantly — or maybe you were like the rest of us. Our arrival in the village carried for us the same uncertainty of being perfectly out of place. Audrey and I were the only visitors, and amidst the lithe and remarkable bodies of the Maasai who surrounded us, we felt awkward, travel pants, goofy one-dollar bush hats and all.

“If you are invited by a local Maasai, then you are welcome,” Kisioki assured us.

“But you need to split up. Audrey go with the women, Dan with the men.”

“But wait,” I said in my head, feeling cut loose.

Mela came to Audrey’s rescue, grabbing her hand and squeezing it as if to say, “You come with me.”

Dan: A Man’s World

I was whisked away, or rather drifted away to a section of open field where men gathered and puttered in the sort of managed chaos that no outsider could reverse engineer. Amidst the veldt and scrub, men talked, drank, and danced occasionally. A few tended to large meat hunks smoldering on grills.

“The village chief tells everyone what’s next — when to eat, when to dance.” Kisoki explained.

A few minutes later, it was time to dance — or rather to practice. The real moves were for the benefit of the women of the village. (We humans have a lot more in common with one another than we’re often aware.)

Men gathered closely, their fighting sticks echoing the leanness of their bodies. This is the Maasai warrior dance I’d seen before on previous trip to Tanzania. This time was different, though. This wasn’t a performance for my benefit, it was all theirs.

Maasai Men Arrive at the Party - Northern Tanzania
Maasai warriors line up for the dance.

For as out of place as I was, the men paid little attention to me. Until, that is, someone handed me his stick. Unprepared, I moved forward, stick in hand. In response, the men laughed in anticipation of how much a fool I would make of myself.

“It’s time to eat,” the chief announced.

Bullet dodged.

Just like that, dance practice was over. Men scattered; meat was grabbed, pulled, torn and cut from the makeshift lattice-work grill stretched across a segment of creek bed. An entire cow whose skin and bones lay deflated, discarded just a few meters away. Meat chunks were passed around — the best saved for elders, the rest scattered on plates of rice circulated among guests.

Kisioki and I sat down with two other men and ate from a heaping plate shared between us. “Do you have that hand disinfectant with you?”

“No,” I said.

“Hmmm,” Kisioki replied, looking mildly concerned for my well-being.

We ate, passing the plate, taking a handful, scooping it into our mouths, passing again, repeating.

In taste it was nothing remarkable, but in ceremony it was something to savor.

I hoped that my digestive system would find itself on the right side of hygiene.

A few minutes later, mid-scoop, it was time to move on.

“Let’s join the women.”

Audrey: A Woman’s World

After Mela grabbed me she led me to a place behind the corral where the women were gathered. They told stories, laughed, and motioned others to join in.

Though I felt a little out of place with nothing to add, I could read the body language clearly – hushed voices, pointing, explosions of laughter, more gasps. Some things are universal. This was a gossip circle.

Infrequent occasions and celebrations to catch up on the latest news, I know them myself.

Tanzanian sky. Maasai women gather from the surrounding villages, offering gifts and goats. Some of their boys are on the way to warriorhood. #catchup #nofilter via Instagram http://ift.tt/T7V0u6
Women, too, prepare for the dance.

Then at once, the women turned and piled into a nearby hut. Aware that I was clueless, Mela grabbed my hand and led me inside. She found a small stool for me to sit on as people poured into the space around me. Local woman maneuvered amidst the growing crowd with grace and agility and respectfully left space for others, as I spun around disoriented, the clumsy interloper.

Several plates were passed into the room — meat soup and a pile of rice mixed with meat. Mela made certain to give me the best chunk of meat she could find. I felt guilty, but also knew that refusal would offend her hospitality. Three of us sat on the ground together, sharing one plate and one spoon, taking a bite and passing it on.

The process exhibited a simple rhythm and fairness. Simultaneously, the women made me feel like a guest yet also one of them.

Bottles of Coke and Fanta were handed into our space. Problem was, no one had a bottle opener. Mela motioned to the carabiner hanging off my camera bag.

I shook my head, “No, this is not a bottle opener.”

But it was. A few failed attempts later I finally got the hang of angling the carabiner and I took on a new, important role in my group: bartender. There I was opening bottles of soda for a group of Maasai women in a hut in the middle of Tanzania.

I smiled, considering how our assumptions of what ought to be often get in way of what could be.

Then another sound, indiscernible to me, that apparently indicated it was time to gather by the corral.

The Dance

In the distance, Maasai women descended from the hills. They sang, their voices carried. They bounced, undulated, their wide beaded necklaces mesmerizing, synchronized. I learned that Maasai women announce themselves on their approach when visiting another village. Should a woman find herself alone, she’ll wait to join a group so she doesn’t join the party by herself.

Meanwhile, a line of Maasai warriors gathered in a straight line, their warrior shouts punctuating the once still air.

Mela pointed to our camera, tucked away in Audrey’s bag: “Pictures OK.”

“Where are the boys from the ceremony?” I asked Kisioki, noting that none of the boys in front of my appeared as if they had just been circumcised that morning.

“Recovering in nearby huts as their friends and family party into the night,” he replied. Raw deal, I’d say.

We followed the group into the open-air corral and moved to the edges, positioning ourselves to absorb a widening scene in front of us. Grunts followed chants, harmony mimicked heartbeat. On the opposite side, a competing village began their own dance circle. The men jumping in the middle shot higher, their shouts growing more pronounced.

A fleeting beat, a universal rhythm.

Video: Maasai Celebration, Singing and Dancing

Goodbye

Kisioki tugged at each of us, indicating we had to leave; it was late and the sun would soon set.

I was aware how fortunate we were — to be there, to be humbled by the generosity of this Maasai community to welcome two foreigners like us into a piece of their private world, their celebration.

Mela was the instigator, in all the right ways. She grabbed Audrey’s hand one final time, as if to squeeze it goodbye — for now.

And somewhere nearby a group of young boys nursed their wounds as their family and friends celebrated them.

Disclosure: The experience above happened completely by chance. However, our trip to Tanzania was to visit Planeterra Foundation Clean Stoves project and was provided by G Adventures in cooperation with its Wanderers in Residence program.

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Next Up: Exploring Haitihttp://uncorneredmarket.com/exploring-haiti/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/exploring-haiti/#comments Tue, 11 Nov 2014 13:13:43 +0000 http://uncorneredmarket.com/?p=19626 By Audrey Scott

Why we’re going to Haiti later this week. A view to a different side of the country, including its re-emergence — and we hope, a path to sustainable tourism development. It’s also about our pursuit of Haitian culture, landscape and cuisine – and the unknown. While on a press trip earlier this fall, we mentioned […]

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By Audrey Scott

Why we’re going to Haiti later this week. A view to a different side of the country, including its re-emergence — and we hope, a path to sustainable tourism development. It’s also about our pursuit of Haitian culture, landscape and cuisine – and the unknown.

Waterfalls of Bassin Bleu near Jacmel, Haiti.
Waterfalls of Bassin Bleu near Jacmel, Haiti.

While on a press trip earlier this fall, we mentioned to a well-traveled British journalist with an intrepid penchant for hot spots, particularly those in the Middle East, that we were headed to Haiti later in the year.

“Really?!” His reply was shriek-like. “Be safe.”

When most people think Haiti, they don’t often think travel. The images that come to most peoples’ minds are those from of the 2010 earthquake and various other political and environmental disasters that news reports suggest seem to plague the country indefinitely — rather than of artists, musicians, waterfalls, clear Caribbean waters, hilltop fortresses, cave networks and the mysteries of Vodou.

So that’s where we come in.

We don’t mean to imply that Haiti doesn’t still have its share of serious economic and environmental issues to address. But like so many places we’ve visited, we suspect there’s a different, additional side to the story and dimension to the place than what we’re deprived of in prevailing media.

That’s why we’re going to Haiti this week to find out.

Haiti voodoo
Dancing and Vodou in Haiti.

Tourism in Haiti. Is that even a thing?

Not currently. Let’s just say there aren’t a lot of travelers coursing through Haiti at the moment. This is one of the things that stoked our curiosity about visiting now.

In fact, when our partner G Adventures were first engaged by Haiti under an Inter-American Development Bank project to assess tourism potential in the country, its analysts were uncertain if not skeptical as to what they might find. Perhaps surprisingly, they found remarkable landscape, a rich living history – one full of art, music, Vodou religious heritage, Creole culture – and a resilient people seeking to move on toward a better future.

The result? Not only did G Adventures suggest that Haiti does have tourism potential, especially of the community-based variety, but they developed a new tour to the country for 2015 to act on their own evaluation.

It’s this tour – in addition to our own independent exploration — that we will experience during our time in Haiti.

Sustainable Tourism in Haiti?

But wait. Will tourism development be a force for good in Haiti? Can’t it destroy a local culture and environment?

Tourism is the people’s business. And how tourism develops in a country, particularly in its early stages, truly does make a difference — good and bad — to the lives of its people.

Haitian food
Time to make Dous Makos, a Haitian dessert.

Our own tourism and travel experience tells us that both outcomes are possible.

So where has Haiti landed in all of this? And more importantly, where does it hope to go?

It’s still early days, but the Haitian Tourism Ministry has apparently indicated that it wishes to pursue tourism development of the more community-based or sustainable variety. It’s because of this that we’re excited to have a look at Haiti for ourselves in its formative stages of tourism development – to not only see and highlight what the country has to offer generally as a destination, but how a community-focused approach might benefit locals and travelers alike.

The circumstances recall a Haitian proverb: “Piti, piti, wazo fe nich li.” Which roughly translates as “Little by little the bird builds its nest.”

So what is there to do and see in Haiti?

Although the first G Adventures’ Haiti tour officially launches in February 2015, we’re part of a visiting group including a few independent journalists and G Adventures staff who will have the advance opportunity to experience it for ourselves. We will also extend our stay and explore parts of Haiti on our own.

Although you may find all the details for the G Adventures Haiti tour on the official itinerary, here’s a snapshot of what we’ll do and see:

The Citadelle Laferrière, Haiti
La Citadelle Laferrière, the largest fortress in the Americas.

  • Citadelle Laferrière: Haiti was the first independent nation in Latin America and the Caribbean, born of a slave revolt from 1791-1804 that defeated French forces and resulted in the founding of a free country. With that in mind, we’ll visit the UNESCO-designated Citadelle Laferrière, a hilltop fortress built in the early 19th century to help defend Haiti’s newfound independence from its colonizers.
  • Cap-Haïtien: We’ll explore various markets and learn how to make Haitian rum from a brandy-like sugar cane extract called guildive, a mispronunciation of “kill devil” which is supposedly what happens when you drink the stuff.
  • Port-au-Prince: The 2010 earthquake left Haiti’s capital city largely in ruins; remnants of this are still visible. We’ll visit the artist community of Atis Rezistan that has emerged from the rubble, and we’ll have a chance to learn more about Haiti’s Vodou culture by meeting with a Vodou priest. Of course, we will spend time in local markets and walking the streets.
  • Jacmel and Bassin Bleu: We continue with the theme of local artistic expression in Jacmel by exploring the town’s street mosaics and visiting the studios of various local artists. Then we’ll enjoy some time at Bassin-Bleu, a network of waterfalls and freshwater pools.
  • Port-Salut and Grotte Marie-Jeanne at Port-à-Piment: On our way out of Jacmel we’ll stop by the Art Creation Foundation for Children. The foundation provides leadership training and practical lessons in various crafts – in addition to providing meals — to at-risk youth. From a stopover in Port Salut, we’ll set off for Port-a-Piment to explore the underground cave network at Grotte Marie-Jeanne.

We will spend an additional week in Haiti in Les Cayes along Haiti’s southwestern coastline, in and around Port-au-Prince, and quite possibly climbing Haiti’s highest peak, Pic la Selle.

Follow our Haiti adventure in real-time

Curious to know what Haiti is like? Who are the Haitian people? What do they eat? What does the island look like? What is the spirit of the place?

We hope to answer that and more.

Please follow along real-time with our adventure via social media. Follow the hashtags #DnA2Haiti and #GadvHaiti on Twitter and Instagram. We will also share updates on our Facebook and Google Plus pages. We’re excited to have the opportunity to share what we see and experience in Haiti with you.


Photo credit: Oana Dragan (G Adventures) and Alex Proimos

Disclosure: Our trip to Haiti is provided to us by G Adventures in cooperation with its Wanderers in Residence program. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

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Uganda Beyond the Gorillas: From Boda Boda to Bunyonyihttp://uncorneredmarket.com/uganda-travel/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/uganda-travel/#comments Mon, 03 Nov 2014 14:20:24 +0000 http://uncorneredmarket.com/?p=19419 By Audrey Scott

While mountain gorilla trekking is the big draw and anchor experience for many people visiting Uganda, the country offers a lot more in terms of atmosphere and experiences. Prior to our trip to Uganda, we’d heard from other travelers that the country was among their favorites in Africa due to its friendly people and laid-back […]

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By Audrey Scott

Africa red, Africa green. Roads carving the jungle, etched by the rains. As I took this photo in Southwestern Uganda, I overheard someone say, "I can't believe it, we are in the jungle, in Africa." True that. via Instagram http://ift.tt/1lpbQOo
Jungle roads, carved by the rains in Southwestern Uganda.

While mountain gorilla trekking is the big draw and anchor experience for many people visiting Uganda, the country offers a lot more in terms of atmosphere and experiences. Prior to our trip to Uganda, we’d heard from other travelers that the country was among their favorites in Africa due to its friendly people and laid-back feel. Beyond the critical human element, you have rafting through Nile River rapids, exploring sprawling markets, hopping a back-seat motorbike tour around the capital city of Kampala, and taking mini animal safaris across the country.

So if you’re wondering which travel experiences in Uganda to consider beyond the mountain gorillas, here are a few thoughts.

Note: If you are interested in learning more about mountain gorilla trekking in Uganda, read this article with all the details you need to plan and prepare.

1. Lake Bunyonyi

Lake Bunyonyi served as our base for gorilla trekking. While its location made for a long drive on the morning of the trek, it made for a great place to reflect, recharge and soak up the surrounding natural beauty of the lake and its many islands. Particularly if you’ve been on the road and are moving at pace, it’s an excellent spot to relish in some down time. Horizons and the surface of the water seem to have a meditative effect.

Looking Out Over Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda
A short hike and big rewards above Lake Bunyonyi.

Although we mainly relaxed at Lake Bunyonyi, we also took a short hike up to Arcadia Cottages for a fantastic mountaintop view across the lake and the islands. We can definitely recommend the restaurant’s crayfish curry, with crayfish caught fresh from the lake. Top that off with a cold beer and the view and you’ll have one of life’s “it doesn’t’ get any better than this” moments.

Crayfish Curry at Arcadia Cottages Restaurant - Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda
Spicy crayfish curry and a cold beer above Lake Bunyonyi. So nice.

If you wish to get out on the water and visit the nearby islands, you can rent a canoe or kayak. There’s also no shortage of men with dugout boats to take you island hopping. Just remember to negotiate a fair price.

2. Rafting (or Flipping One’s Raft) on the Nile River Rapids

We’ve rafted Class V rapids a number of times – New Zealand, Costa Rica, among others – but none of that quite prepared us for the joy-meets-terror experience while rafting the Nile River rapids near the town of Jinja. These rapids are an intense adrenaline rush, often complete with several raft flips and a fleeting sense of your own fragility. We won’t lie to you: flipping is exciting, but it’s also frightening as the current is strong and you must keep your wits about you. In many ways, it’s life affirming.

We recommend it.

Our Boat Flips on the Nile River - Jinja, Uganda
And this is how you flip on the Nile River, Uganda.

Be sure to ask questions of your river guide as you’re floating along in-between rapids. Juma, our guide, was an Olympic paddler. Beyond his skill on the water, he was a wealth of great stories, fabulous humor, and cynical insight into Ugandan politics, corruption, religion, foreign aid and more. His perspective alone was worth the price of admission.

White Water Rafting Down Nile River - Jinja, Uganda
On one of the more mellow rapids, Juma steers us through.

Note: If you have not been rafting before or are not completely comfortable in the water, consider taking one of the other more mellow boat rides offered. You can also let your guide know at the beginning of your paddle which level of adrenaline you’d like. There are measures the guide can take to ensure a smoother ride over the rapids – or a rougher one. If you are already out there and find that the rapids become too much — as they were for one woman in our group who had never been rafting before — there is a safety boat that you can hop on to float over the more unnerving segments of the paddle.

Details: We rafted with Nile River Explorers. They run a hostel in Jinja town and a campsite out by the river. We would have preferred to stay out by the river but during our visit the roads were too washed out for our truck to pass. The cost: $110 for a half day, $125 for a full day, which includes a lunch and a beer (or two, or three) at the end. Given the price and the fact that the most memorable rapids are in the afternoon, we recommend the full day experience. The price also includes transfer from/to Kampala and a night’s accommodation at the Explorers Hostel or campsite. Even if you don’t require the transfer and free accommodation, the price remains the same.

3. Boda Boda (Motorbike) Tour of Kampala

Kampala is a big, sprawling city that can feel nothing but overwhelming when you find yourself in the middle of it. Locals affectionately refer to it as “organized chaos.” We think of it as something a bit simpler: chaos.

One of the women in our rafting boat, a public health consultant working in South Sudan, knew Kampala quite well from frequent rest and relaxation visits. When we asked her how best to explore and approach Kampala, she responded immediately: “Take a boda boda (motorbike) tour with Walter. I learned so much about Kampala on that tour, even though I had visited the city several times before. And, being on the back of a boda boda, it’s just a lot of fun. In fact, I’m thinking of doing it again this visit.”

We were sold.

Dan Enjoying His Boda Boda Tour of Kampala - Uganda
Dan explores Kampala on the back of a boda boda (motorbike).

Walter’s boda boda tour quickly breaks the city down into a series of manageable and enlightening experiences over the course of one day. Your motorbike driver will double as a guide, so be sure to bring your curiosity. Ask him anything about his home city and country and he will likely be glad to share.

You can customize your motorbike tour experience to your interests. We spent the morning visiting traditional sights like the Hindu Temple, National Mosque (including its panoramic views of the city and its “7 hills”), and the infamously crazy Kampala central taxi and bus park.

A long way down. The spiral staircase of Kampala's National Mosque. Afraid of heights? Don't look over the railing. via Instagram http://ift.tt/1jBz1Rr
A long way down. The spiral staircase of Kampala’s National Mosque.

The typical tour continues with historical sites like the Royal Palace and National Museum, but we were more interested in going local by visiting markets and neighborhoods. We visited Mengo Market, small and local, and spent the rest of the day in several of the sprawling downtown markets (e.g., Owino Market), and neighborhood “slums” (our driver’s words) on the city’s edge.

Don’t fear the word slum. These neighborhoods aren’t frightening, but in the words of our motorbike drivers, are instead “the real Uganda.” Being on the back of a motorbike allows you to cover large parts of the city while enjoying a reasonable pace and the flexibility to cut through narrow alleys and market spaces.

Details: The easiest way to book: send an email to Walter through his website. Tours run between $30-$45/person, depending upon the number of people in the group, time of year, etc. Walter, the founder of the company who adores motorcycles himself, has an interesting story and tries to help foreign visitors experience his country in different ways. Check out his other tours.

4. Fresh Markets

Fresh markets are usually where the action, people, and food are. Whether we found ourselves at a weekly market on the shores of Lake Bunyonyi or in the middle of Kampala, it’s no different. As English is spoken by many people in Uganda, it is relatively easy to ask questions about vegetables, roots, fruits, smoking implements and other bits and bobs that were previously unknown to us.

Boats Bringing Charcoal to Lake Bunyonyi Market - Uganda
Vendors bring their goods to market by boat across Lake Bunyonyi.

Though sometimes the exact meaning of the name of a vegetable was lost on us. We picked up kilos of “sweet potatoes” and “bitter tomatoes” for our group thinking they were one thing, only to be enlightened by our guide that they were not at all potatoes or tomatoes but cassava-like roots and a rough local version of an eggplant. We found a way to cook and eat them anyway.
Fruit and Vegetable Stand, Mengo Market - Kampala, Uganda
Overflowing with fresh fruits and vegetables, Mengo Market.

The best-known markets in Kampala are the Nakasero fresh market (partially covered) and the Owino goods market, both of which can feel overwhelming because of their intensity and sprawl. For a smaller and more personal market experience, consider checking out the smaller neighborhood markets (e.g., Mengo Market).

5. Chimpanzee Trekking

Although Uganda’s mountain gorillas usually steal the traveler spotlight, chimpanzee trekking is also pretty cool and provides an opportunity to learn about these intelligent yet conniving, meat-eating apes.

Chimpanzee Trekking in Kalinzu Forest Reserve - Western Uganda
Chimpanzee tracking, we follow our guide.

Our chimpanzee trek began early in the morning from Kalinzu Forest National Reserve and our challenging climb followed the sounds of the chimpanzees in the trees above us. Along the way, we also spotted Colobus monkeys.

The chimpanzee jungle guides have highly tuned senses and can pick up chimpanzee sounds that are imperceptible to the untrained ear. The chimps usually hang out high in the canopy, so they are hard to see up close, but if you are quiet you can watch them as they feed on the leaves of the trees above and occasionally make their way to the jungle floor.

Chimpanzee Mother and Baby - Kalinzu Forest Reserve, Uganda
Mother and child chimpanzees up high in the branches.

Be sure to take a moment to enjoy the sounds, including a chorus of birds like none you’ve heard or seen before. This is the jungle — enjoy the entire show.

6. Eating a Rolex

No, this is not about downing a luxury watch. In Uganda, a rolex is a chapati (Indian flatbread) filled with eggs, onions, tomatoes, and cabbage. It’s quick, tasty and cheap street food that fills you up. And it’s fun to chat with vendors and watch as they make them. Particularly at less tourist-trafficked markets, take a photograph and the cooks will really think you’re crazy.

Time to Make the Rolex - Kampala, Uganda
Time to make the rolex. Mengo Market, Kampala.

Kikomando, a Ugandan dish composed of beans tossed with slices of chapati, is also worth a try. We were told that the name of the dish is inspired by scenes from action films like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Commando. The idea: eating kikomando will make you strong like Arnold. I’m not certain about that, but this dish proves exceptionally efficient at filling you up for the rest of the day.
Kikomando, Filling Ugandan Street Food - Kampala, Uganda
Kikomando. Become strong like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And if you love avocados like we do, be sure to stock up on them in Uganda. They are delicious, cheap and not prone to browning like the avocados you might be accustomed to. When ripe, they can be spread like butter over a chapati. Oddly delicious, especially when hungry on a nine hour bus ride through the border to Rwanda.

7. Ugandan People

Finally, we close with the lasting impression that Uganda often gives: the warmth of its people. From the endless groups of kids waving from the side of the road or the all the people who helped us with directions through Kampala while retrieving our bank card from Barclays Bank in Entebbe (it was swallowed by the ATM at the Kampala/Entebbe airport…beware), the people are the country.

Mother and Son - Mengo Market, Kampala
A Ugandan mother and her son ham it up for the camera.

English serves as one of the country’s national languages and people will often greet you, ask where you are from and inquire as to how you like their country. We found that people were rather open to talking about life, politics, challenges, hopes, and more. So don’t be afraid to follow your curiosity respectfully.
Market Vendor, Big Smile - Mengo Market, Kampala
Friendly vendor at a market in Kampala.

As a foreigner, you’ll likely find yourself attracting touts aiming to sell you something, or otherwise attempting to extract money from you. One of the twists in Uganda, however, is that often these touts are representing a nearby “orphanage” or similar heart-tugging NGO, employing what our guide called “sympathy tourism.” We found that asking a few questions regarding the organization’s operations, allocation of money, and contact information would usually leave touts speechless and with no other choice than to move on. We don’t want to discourage giving in general, but suggest you give responsibly by researching organizations and avoiding indiscriminate giving on the street.

A note on seeing the mountain gorillas

This piece aimed to highlight what to do and see in Uganda outside of the mountain gorillas to create a well-rounded itinerary. For all you need to know on this topic, check out our Gorilla Trekking Beginner’s Guide.


In full disclosure, the highlights of our Uganda travel experience represent only the beginning. Had we more time, we would have trekked the Rwenzori Mountains, taken a wildlife boat tour in the Kazinga Channel, and spent a few days at Murchison Falls on safari, as was recommended by another traveler we’d met.

We often leave a country with more things on our wish list than when we first arrived. Uganda is certainly no exception. We’re already imaging how we’ll return.

Dan and Audrey at the Equator in Uganda
Uganda, one foot in each hemisphere.
Disclosure: We experienced most of the above on the G Adventures Uganda Gorillas & Overland Tour that was provided to us by G Adventures in cooperation with its Wanderers in Residence program. As always, the opinions expressed here are entirely our own.

If you plan to book this or another tour with G Adventures, please consider starting the process by clicking on the ad below. The price stays the same to you and we earn a small commission. Thank you!

Africa Tours with G Adventures

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Romantic Rhine Travel: On and Off the Beaten Pathhttp://uncorneredmarket.com/romantic-rhine-travel/ http://uncorneredmarket.com/romantic-rhine-travel/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 12:16:11 +0000 http://uncorneredmarket.com/?p=19547 By Audrey Scott

Through sunny days and fog, famous towns and little known ‘burgs, wine cellars and village vintner festivals, this was our time on the segment of the Rhine River known as the Romantic Rhine. Half-timbered homes sit as the foot of cobbled streets. Vineyard paths wind into the hills. And foggy moments as castles disappear and […]

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By Audrey Scott

The Upper Middle Rhine Valley, no shortage of castles and medieval towns.

Through sunny days and fog, famous towns and little known ‘burgs, wine cellars and village vintner festivals, this was our time on the segment of the Rhine River known as the Romantic Rhine.

Half-timbered homes sit as the foot of cobbled streets. Vineyard paths wind into the hills. And foggy moments as castles disappear and re-emerge on hilltops hint at history.

If you have a fear of missing out on the must-see bits of the region, but long for a taste of the lesser-seen local experience, then this article and guide to the Upper Middle Rhine is for you.

Here is all the information we would have wanted to know before our road trip to the Upper Middle Rhine Valley, the 67-km UNESCO World Heritage segment of the Rhine River from the towns of Bingen and Rüdesheim north to the city of Koblenz at the confluence of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers.

Rhine Valley Road Trip, Up Above Oberwesel - Germany
Rhine Valley road trip, enjoying some late summer sun.

Skip ahead:

Recommended Rhine Valley Route and Towns

We traveled on the Rhine River from south to north, beginning in the town of Bingen and ending in Koblenz. Our recommendation is to spend at least three full days in the area. Ideally, give yourself more time so you can visit the area at a relaxed pace, leaving times for walks and hikes, a bicycle ride, and a few unexpected stops. (Note: We visited the area in just over two days and found our pace a bit rushed.)

Bingen am Rhein

We confess that we timed our visit to coincide with the Bingen 11-day wine festival, the longest such festival in the region. What makes this wine festival especially fun is the feel of locals enjoying their own wine and community. On the evening we spent in Bingen, absolutely everyone was in the streets enjoying the local product — even the mayor, who wanted his photo taken with us.

Bingen Wine Festival - Rhine Valley, Germany
People gather under Klopp Castle during the Bingen Wine Festival.

Many of the local wineries set up stalls on the various squares across town. We recommend that you ask to taste a few wines before selecting the one you wish to commit to by buying a full glass. This region is mostly known for whites – Riesling, Silvaner, Weissburgunder, and Grauburgunder. Show your curiosity and flash a few smiles. This will likely yield generous samples and a lesson on the different grapes in the area, the characteristics of this wine region, and the varietal in which the vineyard you are chatting with specializes.

Fireworks as Part of the Bingen Wine Festival - Rhine Valley, Germany
Fireworks over the Nahe River, Bingen Wine Festival.

Rüdesheim

Just across the river from Bingen, the town of Rüdesheim is the traditional favorite with Rhine River cruise passengers. It’s easy to understand why. Rüdesheim’s collection of half-timbered homes and narrow alleyways stuffed with shops make it feel like you’ve stepped into the set of a Grimm Brothers fairytale. Hopefully one with a friendly ending.

Drosselgasse, the most popular old town street in Rüdesheim.

Rüdesheim is also a wine town — more specifically of the Rheingau wine region — and is famous for its Rieslings and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir). There are vineyards spread throughout and surrounding the town. We suggest that you try one of the terroir Rieslings, called as such for the distinct influence of the local soil and terrain noticeable in some of the wines. Taste a couple of terroir style Rieslings side by side and you’ll begin to understand how the expression of a single grape can be influenced by the various minerals present in a specific patch of soil.

Boosenburg Castle and Vineyard - Rüdesheim, Germany
Every castle needs a vineyard. Boosenburg Castle, Rüdesheim.

Rüdesheim gets busy with visitors, especially with river cruise passengers in the daytime. However, it begins to clear out a bit in the late afternoon and early evening. Consider spending the night here so that you can enjoy the feel of the town without the crowds.

Things to do in Rüdesheim:
Cable Car to Niederwald Monument: Highly recommended. A lot of fun to soar above the vineyards and gaze across the hills to the Rhine River below. At the top, take a walk over to the Niederwald Monument for even more views over the city and river valley. Cost: €7 roundtrip.

Dan enjoys the ride above the Rüdesheim vineyards.

Siegfried’s Mechanical Music Cabinet: Although we had our doubts — a museum full of mechanical music devices sounds a little yawn-inducing — our host’s excitement about the place motivated us to visit. The history of mechanical musical instruments — including contraptions like full air-powered symphonies in giant organ-sized boxes complete with single-stringed mechanical rotating violins — is almost unbelievable, particularly in light of how much we take for granted about the production of sound and music in today’s technology landscape. Cost: €6.50 (includes tour)

Lorch

Lorch, a sleepy working wine town, proved our unlikely favorite spot along the Upper Middle Rhine Valley. It wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing town we visited and we were only there overnight, but there was something about the feel and personal nature of the place that we really enjoyed. Maybe it was our morning run through the misty vineyards above the river and town that made the whole area feel mysterious, as if the clouds were hiding secrets.

The sleepy town of Lorch in the early morning mist.

Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that Lorch wasn’t very touristed and featured a slow, relaxed pace. The personal touch and attention also helped, including at a family-run hotel in a converted schoolhouse (the owner went to school there as a child) where we stayed the night. Top that off with a last-minute decision to drop in on the Perabo winery restaurant for a some appetizers and local terroir wines. A great way to spend an evening.

Small Plate Eating at Perabo Winery Restaurant - Lorch, Germany
Small plates well paired with a Riesling at Perabo Winery Restaurant, Lorch. Fine and fitting.

Kaub am Rhein

The morning drive from Lorch to Kaub is one to take slowly, pulling the car over at every overlook to catch views of castles on hilltops across the river. Kaub itself is a small medieval town that looks over Pfalzgrafenstein, a colorful 14th century castle on an islet set in the middle of the river. We skipped going inside the castle in favor of a quick walk through town to pick up a coffee and morning snack — all before hopping the car ferry to Bacharach. Try to get here in the morning before 11AM, as we saw bus tours arriving around that time.

Kaub, a Little Town Along the Rhine Valley - Germany
The wee town of Kaub, complete with vineyards and a castle on the hill.

Bacharach

Bacharach is another absurdly cute town on the west bank of the Rhine. Among the more sight-loaded towns in the region, Bacharach also features a 1000 year-old castle (Burg Stahleck) perched high on the hill.

Burg Stahleck overlooks the town of Bacharach.

Our recommendation: find the walking path behind the church and head up through the woods to get to the castle (now a youth hostel) for a view of the town and river. If you have more time, get lost in the vineyard paths leading to and from the castle. Otherwise, head back down into town to explore the church and wander around the medieval streets and alleys. Stop by Eis Cafe Italia (Oberstrasse 48) for some Riesling ice cream. Yes, Riesling ice cream! We had our doubts, but it was surprisingly tasty and refreshing and featured hints of fragrant fermentation.

Bacharach Back Streets - Rhine Valley, Germany
The back streets of Bacharach, just one block from busy Oberstrasse.

Lorelei (Loreley) Overlook in Urbar

We confess that we don’t get the almost cult-like need to visit Lorelei. It’s a pretty rock and segment of the river, and we know about the legend of the mermaid and Heinrich Heine’s poem. Despite this, we don’t quite understand all the hype. Perhaps you can blame our literature teachers from high school. That said, we did enjoy — and recommend — the detour from Oberwesel to Urbar for the Lorelei overlook as the road and journey offers beautiful views of the river valley along the way.

Note: If you wish to see a photo of Loreley, it’s here.

A long look down the Rhine River on a day of blazing sunshine. Giving life to happy grapes overlooking the town of Oberwesel. Taken from the lookout en route to the Loreley overlook at Urbar. #Germany via Instagram http://ift.tt/Wu1uon
Rhine River and Oberwesel in the blazing sun – from the Loreley Overlook road.

Oberwesel, Boppard and Braubach

We stopped briefly in — or drove through — the towns of Oberwesel, Boppard and Braubach on our way to Koblenz. If we stayed another day along the Rhine Valley, we would likely have spent it in one of these towns. There’s a lesson here: everything in the region takes longer to cover. It’s also easy to get stuck. So it was that we ran out of time walking village streets in the early parts of our days there.

Koblenz

Koblenz served as the final stop of our Rhine Valley road trip. It’s the largest of the towns along this stretch of the Rhine River. As such, we kept our expectations in check, especially after all the fairy tale half-timbered homes and castles from the day’s earlier stops. However, Koblenz surprised us.

Koblenz in Late Summer - Rhine Valley, Germany
Late summer dining in Koblenz’s old town.

Koblenz was originally a Roman town, dating to over 2,000 years ago and making it one Germany’s oldest cities. Like Aachen and Cologne, it was under French rule for a spell at the end of the 18th century, and prides itself on still having a bit of French blood coursing through its cultural veins. Much of the city was destroyed during World War II. However, some sections survived while others were rebuilt with an eye to the traditional style, all of which made for pleasant atmospheric walks, especially in the old town.

We ended our visit to Koblenz by walking out to the Deutsches Eck (German Corner) where the Rhine and Mosel Rivers meet. The sun set as we took the cable car up to Ehrenbreitstein, the 19th century fortress across the river.

This aerial view of the Rhine River at dusk seemed a rather fitting close to our journey.

Deutsches Eck, the intersection of the Rhine and Mosel Rivers.

Avoiding the Crowds Along the Rhine Valley

We’d be lying if we told you this segment of the Rhine River is undiscovered and untouristed. We visited in early September, coming off the high season when river cruises and bus tours are still active. What we found, however, is that if you wish to get away from the crowds it is not especially difficult. All it takes is moving a block or two in either direction from the beaten tourist thoroughfare and you’ll have the streets, castles, and vineyards much to yourself. It’s literally that easy.

Even in the back streets of Rüdesheim, there's no shortage of color. Our journey continues along the Romantic Rhine route. #welterbegermany #germany #rudesheim
Even in the back streets of Rüdesheim, there’s no shortage of color.

We also suggest getting an early start to visit some of the more popular towns in the morning before the river cruises and buses arrive (in our experience, around 11AM). You’ll have the opportunity to see how the town wakes up — locals stocking up on bread at the bakery, picking up groceries, greeting shopkeepers as they make their way to work. We also tried to begin each of our days with a morning run or walk along the wine paths. Pleasant and mind-clearing.

Hiking and Biking in the Rhine Valley

Although our time was short and we couldn’t do this ourselves, we recommend incorporating hiking and bicycling into your trip. There are hundreds of kilometers of hiking and bicycle paths that take you through all of the towns we mention above, as well as through vineyards and other castles tucked higher in the hills and away from the banks of the Rhine.

It’s easy to pick up booklets from hotels and local tourist information offices that recommended day hikes and bicycle rides. And with the various options for train and boat transport (see below) you can easily return to your hotel at the end of the day.

The RheinSteig Weg includes 320km of paths along the east bank of the Rhine River. We ran along a very small portion of this through the vineyards outside of Lorch (called the Wein Wander Weg) and it was just beautiful. The paths on this side of the river seem a little less busy than those on the opposite side.

On the west bank of the river you have the RheinBurgen Weg, featuring 200km of hiking and biking paths. You can find some of the recommended day trips listed here.

Note: If you aren’t especially picky about your ride, don’t worry about bringing your own bicycle with you. Many, if not all, of the tourist offices along the Upper Middle Rhine Valley offer bicycle rental. They also offer the option of electronic-assist bicycles if you are worried about not being able to conquer some of the steep hills in the vineyards. In addition, we noticed many hotels and shops offering Rhine Valley bicycle rentals for €10-€12 per day.

Rhine Valley Transportation Options

The jury is still out for me on whether I would rent a car again to visit this area. While I enjoyed the flexibility of having a car, I was impressed by the public transport and boat options available that allow one to move around without the stress of driving and parking. It’s worth noting that I (Audrey) am not a big fan of driving. If you especially enjoy driving, by all means rent a car.

Renting a Car in the Rhine Valley

Pros: Having your own rental car provides the most flexibility to visit little towns and villages along the river. You can take car ferries from select towns to get to the other side of the river, as there are no bridges between Bingen and Koblenz. These ferries are quite reasonable at around €5 for two people and a vehicle.

Rhine River car ferry. Who needs a bridge?

Cons: Parking in some towns can be a bit tricky. It can also get expensive (10€/half day, for example in Rüdesheim). If you’d like to travel part of the Rhine River by boat (recommended, see below), then you’ll have to find a way to backtrack to pick up your car. Additionally, if you want to sample wines along the way, driving may impact your tasting and consumption options.

Rental car details: We rented a car from Cologne railway station and dropped it off at the Frankfurt railway station. If there’s not much difference in the cost, I suggest dropping the car off in Koblenz and taking the train to Frankfurt. Driving in central Frankfurt is stressful, particularly with construction, one-way streets and a hidden drop-off rental car lot at the Frankfurt central train station.

Note: If you are not a German resident, be certain to indicate this when you are booking your rental car. In searches I performed with various rental car companies, I found it much less expensive to rent a car if you are a resident of the United States than if you are a resident of Germany.

Boats Along the Upper Rhine River

There is definitely no shortage of boats going along or criss-crossing the Rhine River, and we recommend taking at least one trip as boats and ferries offer a different visual perspective on the towns and landscape along the Romantic Rhine.

We hopped on one of the KD Boats from Rüdesheim to Lorch (and then took the train to return to Rüdesheim to pick up our car). There are hop-on/hop-off boats that run up and down the Rhine River several times a day, so just check the timetables. You can buy point-to-point tickets, too.

For a budget option, hop car ferries to cross the river. It’s a short ride and trips are reasonably priced at just a couple of euros.

Regional Trains

There are regional trains that run up and down both sides of the river. Trains run more frequently on the east bank of the river (Rüdesheim-Lorch-Koblenz). We also know from experience that trains can be faster than a car if you time it well. You can buy a Rheinland-Pfalz ticket that provides unlimited rides in a 24-hour period. Alternatively, point-to-point tickets are quite reasonably priced (e.g., around €2.90 from Lorch to Rüdesheim, one-way).

Taking the train works well with hiking and biking as you can complete a trail and take the train back to wherever you are staying. Just be sure to check the schedule before you go so you aren’t spending unnecessary time waiting for a train at the end of the day.


We realize that we only scratched the surface of what there is to see, do, drink and eat along the Upper Middle Rhine Valley in our short time there. However, we hope this guide assists you in your planning and your approach to spending time in the area. 67 kilometers may not sound like much, but there’s a lot to unpack and experience in the area.

Our trip around the Rhineland of Germany was supported by the German National Tourism Board (GNTB). As always, the experiences and thoughts expressed here are our own.

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