August 27, 2014

Far Far Away

Photograph by Ande Truman
Everything is possible, but where do possibilities begin...with a slumbering white lion and a train, of course. After all, the journey of a lifetime has to start with a BIG dream ~ Dream of Africa.

While you're at it, why not start with its furthest edge. On the southernmost end of the African continent. Here mountain ranges mark the last stronghold, before this rugged land gives way to the sea. Cliffs rise like fortress walls, while enormous boulders stand sentry guarding the shoreline, unwavering against the thieving sea. Not one, but two oceans battle for more ground here. This vibrant land, South Africa,  rises spectacularly, as if it were the last vestige of land at the edge of the world.

South Africa: a land far, far away...

It should be said, while a visit to South Africa will be incredibly memorable for its beauty, this is a land deeply scarred. It is a country still trying to resolve its rocky past; a country riddled with controversy and upheaval, but through it all settlers and travelers continue to come for its spectacular beauty. The wounds of the past are glaringly evident in Cape Town, where we begin this journey. Here a huge percentage of South Africans still live in poverty. The road is long both behind, and ahead of this country, but the possibilities are great. I keep a favorite quote by Maya Angelou on the home page of this blog. It is perhaps no more suitable than here. It reads, "Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends."* South Africa will hopefully become a place where all its citizens are treated and cared for equally well. Awareness is key.

Arriving in Cape Town ~
Groot Constantia Estate
As you can imagine, at this point, after the long flight, anticipation for the spectacular train trip ahead will be almost unbearable. You'll eagerly await the call, "All aboard," like mice waiting for the Pavlov's bell to ring. However, before you hop the train, give yourself a day or two to rest and explore this bustling, colorful city; a day or two to get acquainted with this country and its people. After all, this is your once-in-a-lifetime journey, so, arrive early. Why not? It is your big dream.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden
There are vineyards here and beautiful botanical gardens…museums, mountain ranges and oceans…penguins and, yes, even white lions. Bordered to the North by Table Bay, to the West by Signal Hill and the Atlantic, and to the South by Table Mountain National Park, it's not a place that is, "just as good as any," to start the trip of a lifetime, it is an extraordinary place to start.
The Old Biscuit Mill Market
Cape Heritage Hotel built in 1771 or the Vineyard Hotelare both lovely places to choose as a base. South Africa's unique flavors can be found at any number of restaurants, but to truly experience an abundance of South African flavors and goods visit the markets: Greenmarket Square for traditional African arts and crafts, V&A Market on the Wharf known for fresh, organic or homemade, or at Saturday's ritual the Old Biscuit Mill. If flora is your thing don't miss Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden which boasts over 22,000 indigenous plant species, and was the first botanical garden to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There's a one of a kind "steampunk" coffee shop called Truth and more than one world class winery.
Cape Town is said to be one of the most photogenic cities in the world, so of course exploring it should be included in a trip of a lifetime to Africa.

Truth Coffee Shop
Cape Heritage Hotel
*Tourism does help support South Africans, but it's not enough. While visiting this amazing part of the world consider finding other ways to help South African's in need.

July 18, 2014

Postcard Perfect

–Banff, Banff National Park and Lake Louise

Despite a plethora of altered photos on the internet, Banff, Banff Nat'l Park and Lake Louise do not need retouching. The trouble is, the areas immense beauty cannot be conveyed in a photograph. Flanked on all sides by the Rockies with the distinction of being the highest town in Canada, Banff sits smack dab in the heart of Banff National Park. A small extremely popular town known for it's access to incredible scenery and wildlife.

Each year, thousands of travelers make the incredible journey to take it all in. Of course, I recommend arriving by train. Although small in size, Banff's ever increasing popularity has spawned luxury accommodations, fine dining and nightlife. Luckily, its restricted footprint has protected it from over development and sprawl. A skier's dream in winter and outdoor adventure wonderland in summer. The park, all 1,641,027 acres, set aside in 1885, is the site of the first national park service. Banff National Park is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A combination of valleys, mountains, glaciers, forests, meadows and rivers, it is one of the world's premier destination spots. Enjoy wildlife tours year round. Skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding, dogsled rides and horse sleigh rides are popular in winter. Nearby Lake Louise is the largest ski area in Canada with 4200 skiable acres. And, although the summer months draw large crowds, there are enough wide open spaces for everyone to do just about every outdoor activity one could imagine-hiking, biking, horseback riding, swimming, wildlife viewing, rock climbing, canoeing, boating, backpacking, fishing, camping, even scuba diving. Many of these activities can also be enjoyed during the winter months. It's also good to come here and make time to be still. You'd have to spend a lifetime here to absorb everything the area has to offer, but a week or two will renew your spirit in ways you'd forgotten were possible.

July 10, 2014

What a Way to Go

Western Canada Train Trips
Travel for 3 hours or for 3, 4 or …12 days alongside glacier-fed lakes, majestic mountains and ferocious rivers. The never ending scene of virtually untouched wilderness, right out your window. This part of the world is ideal train travel. Mountain vistas, lake, roaring rivers, flowery meadows, waterfalls and wildlife all await discovery.

Rocky Mountaineer offers over 65 train packages including on that goes from Vancouver to Alaska and from train to cruise ship. The scenery is so amazing that the train company guarantees the train windows are cleaned daily. These are not budget traveler experiences. Trips rage from a couple hundred dollars for a 1 day excursions to over $6000 per passenger for 12 days, but saving up for this experience is well worth it.
A couple great examples are the First Passage from Vancouver to Banff (4 days $1,121 USD) traces the westward steps of 19th century explorers between Calgary and Vancouver and Sea to Sky Climb (1 day $274 USD) travels from the coastal city of Vancouver to the resort town of Whistler, renowned for outstanding skiing and year-round outdoor activities. Highlights of the trip include spectacular views of Howe Sound and the Coast  Mountains, Brandywine Falls, Mount Garibaldi and the impressive Cheakamus Canyon. Whatever you choose, you want be disappointed. Canadian train travel is a great way to go.
Cheakamus Canyon