If there is one thing Canada is NOT lacking, it’s space — wide open, uninhabited, green space. Though much of this space just exists, a lot of it has also been designated as national park land. On a recent visit to Quebec, I spent a few hours in one of the province’s parks. I’m a ridiculous fan of the national parks in the United States, so I was excited to get even a glimpse into a corner of one of the protected natural areas in Canada.
Our visit to Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier consisted of two main things: First, we took a hike on a fairly unmarked trail that meandered through dark, rocky crevices and required a guide. Admittedly, I was a little hesitant at first because I’m used to being untethered and doing my own thing, going my own speed when I hike, but this path was not easy to follow, and it definitely enhanced the experience to have a guide providing context to our surroundings. This path is the only one in the park that requires a guide, and I’m told that visitors can easily navigate the others in Parc national de la Jacques-Cartier on their own.
I always harbored that teenage dream of buying an unlimited rail pass and spending the summer touring Europe at my own leisure. I never ended up fulfilling that dream, but given the awesome experiences I had traveling around Scandinavia by train as a college student and then when I visited Switzerland for a week a few years ago, I wish I had followed through on that whimsical desire. On more than one occasion, I’ve pulled out a European map and studied the many places I’ve never visited on the continent. Europe is a big place, and I’ve seen so little of it. The pull to buy an open-ended train ticket, pack a backpack and just follow my fancy still dances at the edges of my mind.
This desire was driven home a few weeks ago when I took a whirlwind trip of London, England; Brussels, Belgium; and Amsterdam, The Netherlands, all tied together by train, courtesy of Rail Europe and Eurostar. What I learned while on this trip is that, while traveling by train in Europe is the way to get around the continent, the choices can be a bit daunting.
The water may only be knee deep, but the current is fast and slick rocks on the bottom of the river make it difficult to find my footing. A sign we passed earlier in the day noted that the water was 45 degrees and flowing swiftly, which makes sense given the fact that much of it is snow melt coming out of Colorado.
Walking upriver is like traversing a maze in the dark. It doesn’t necessarily mean walking straight up the center of the river. I’m constantly looking at the step in front of me, calculating depth by the color of the water and with my walking stick. I look for banks on either side of the river and try to determine what the shortest, least resistant path is between them. It often feels like the route with the shallowest water and least number of rocks is longer than what I’d prefer to walk from Point A to Point B, but this hike isn’t about getting to the end fast. It’s about the challenge, the strenuous push of one leg after another through an environment few people will ever get to hike.
At first, the river is relatively wide, and the water only hits my shins with the occasional brush of my knees. It isn’t like any other average hike but, despite the cold water, it isn’t particularly taxing. Certainly walking against a current isn’t a simple task, but it’s a manageable trek. About two-and-a-half miles upstream, another canyon joins the Narrows. Shortly thereafter, the walls narrow and the sunlight fights to slip into the canyon. This is Wall Street.
St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland is like tasting chocolate for the very first time in Hershey, Pennsylvania. It’s like meeting Dolly Parton in Nashville or attending mass in Rome. It is Chinese New Year in Beijing and ringing in the new year in Times Square. Being in Ireland during St. Patrick’s Day is like placing yourself at the root of tradition, bleeding green and sweating Guinness.
I wouldn’t normally travel 24 hours (with time zone changes) to a destination just to spend three days there before turning back around and heading back home again … but I don’t get an invitation to visit Dublin, Ireland, for St. Patrick’s Day every year.
I was one of about 50 international media guests invited to Dublin to dive into the culture of St. Patrick’s Day. As per any media trip, the itinerary was packed, but it hit the highlights and whet my appetite to get back and explore more. A few of my thoughts and notes from Dublin’s big day:
> One local told me that the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin was created to give tourists something to do on the holiday, but other locals told me that those who live in the city love it as much as tourists. I got the feeling the people enjoying the festivities were a healthy mix of both.
Las Vegas is cluttered with Elvis wannabes and walking renditions of rock stars, pop icons and other celebrities. Some make their money busking on the sidewalks, and others take to stages across the city as impersonators. I’m not wild about Elvis or Britney Spears, and if I want to see someone in concert, I want to see the real thing.
And so it was with a bit of curiosity, a little hesitation and an open mind that I accepted an invitation to see Million Dollar Quartet, the newest show to open at Harrah’s Las Vegas. The official summary of the show:
The Tony Award Winning musical, Million Dollar Quartet is set on December 4, 1956, when an extraordinary twist of fate brought Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley together at Sun Records for one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll jam sessions in history.
Million Dollar Quartet brings that legendary December night to life with the extraordinary story of broken promises, secrets, and the once in a lifetime celebration of four friends that is both poignant and funny. Relive the era with the smash-hit sensation featuring an incredible score of rock ‘n’ roll, gospel, R&B and country hits, performed live onstage by world-class actors and musicians.
When it comes to shows in Las Vegas, it’s pretty safe to say I’m smitten by Cirque du Soleil. Granted, not every Cirque-branded show has been a big hit in my book (I’m not a big fan of Zumanity and I have no plans to see BeLIEve), but most of the shows I’ve had the chance to see have been beyond amazing.
Las Vegas’ newest Cirque du Soleil show, Zarkana, which opened a couple months ago at ARIA, encompasses everything I love most about Cirque: Awesome music, stunning costumes, artful make-up, creative staging and lighting, surprises, humor and, of course, acts that left me slack jawed, nervous and downright impressed. Cirque excels in big, beautiful and bold productions highlighting acrobatic talent, and while some of the company’s productions in Las Vegas have recently been aligned with certain themes or people (the Elvis and Beatles shows are two examples), Zarkana goes back to the roots of what I think people really love about Cirque.
I suppose that, like many people, I didn’t think much of my hometown when I was growing up there. It was the city where I went to dance class, got my hair cut, bought school supplies and went out to eat with my parents. It was the place where I grabbed a late-night dessert after going to the movies with friends in high school, learned to drive and went to the doctor.
Hometowns are those places where ordinary things happen to ordinary people. They aren’t places we would visit on a vacation; they’re the spots on the map we return to after going somewhere interesting.
After I graduated from high school in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, I escaped my hometown for a college town in eastern Washington—a community and city in its own right that appealed to my newly independent self. I did a good job in avoiding Eau Claire for many years; after all, why would someone return to a place that was defined by haircuts, school supplies and doctor appointments — all those things that make up any other boring town?
Over those years, though, I followed Eau Claire’s local arts and culture rag (which I wrote for briefly myself) and, in the process, watched the city grow from an ordinary hometown to one that could arguably be called a destination. In recent years, Eau Claire has gone from another crusty Midwestern city to a welcoming place fostering music, performing arts, public spaces and accessibility. It is, quite frankly, a place I would like to visit.
Just as communities around the United States have become more invested in eating locally, I’ve become more aware of what it means to support my local farmers market and the markets of those cities I visit when I travel. At their most basic level, farmers markets are a place to buy fresh produce and other locally produced goods, but I’ve come to realize that they are so much more than that.
Farmers markets are a place where neighbors get to catch up with each other — an important aspect of successfully fostering a healthy and happy town that many people seem to have forgotten. They are a place to celebrate the achievements of friends and support their homegrown efforts. They encourage healthy habits and support a community financially. I haven’t met a farmers market I haven’t loved, and the one in South Bend, Indiana, was no exception.
This farmers market was established in 1924, so it’s no newbie to the fresh food scene. It is located close to the downtown area just across the street from the bike trail, which means that many people can access it easily — a must for fostering that sense of community. Many Midwest farmers markets are only operational during the summer months, but South Bend’s is housed in an enclosed building, which means people can shop year round. One of the greatest things about the website for this farmers market is that it features a page detailing what is in season, any season of the year.
In Richmond, Indiana, there is a lovely green space called Glen Miller Park. And in Glen Miller Park there is a monument that stands 18 feet tall. In the world of monuments, it almost seems a bit significant. After all, there are statues and plaques in all kinds of places commemorating significant people, events and moments in history. I probably wouldn’t have stopped to admire this monument because it seemed like so many others I’ve happened upon in my travels, but luckily my mom knew the significance of this particular one when we stopped during a recent road trip.
The statue in Glen Miller Park is a Madonna of the Trail monument, a nod to the settlers who traveled along the road to the West Coast. It is located on America’s first national highway, which officially runs from Cumberland, Maryland, to Vandalia, Illinois, and then was extended through all state and territorial capitals as it moved west. This Madonna of the Trail statue is one of twelve similar monuments, which are spread throughout the country. The other eleven can be found in:
Cumberland Falls was the second state resort park I visited in Kentucky. Just as Natural Bridge State Park (also located in Eastern Kentucky) is known for one specific feature, Cumberland Falls State Park’s spotlight feature is a known for its impressive waterfall. It’s not the biggest in the United States and certainly not the most spectacular one that I’ve ever seen, but there’s one thing about Cumberland Falls that is absolutely awesome: It is the only place in the Western Hemisphere where a moonbow appears on a predictable basis. When the moon is full and the sky is clear, a rainbow of sorts appears above the waterfalls in the dark of the night. Though moonbows may be spotted periodically in other places on occasion, the only other place in the world where a moonbow regularly appears is Victoria Falls on Africa’s Zambezi River, between Zimbabwe and Zambia.
The famous waterfall at this Kentucky state park is easily accessible to reach and view along a paved path, but it is only one of a handful of worthy features in the park. Eagle Falls, which is 44 feet high, can be reached via a 1.5-mile trail. There are several miles of pathways throughout the park, though many of them include several stone steps traversing hills, which can be a bit treacherous if they become wet or icy. One of the advantages of visiting Cumberland Falls State Park, though, is the fact that most people come to check out the main waterfall, so if you choose to venture elsewhere, you can embrace nature almost completely on your own.