Visit the Ghost Town of St. Elmo Colorado

By Christina VanGinkel

Ghost towns in general can be a fun place to visit. The history of the towns, coupled with the modern day leftover buildings, scenery, and sometimes, even descendants, can often get ones mind actively inspired in all sorts of directions. I visited my very first ghost town many years ago, and even though I have visited several since, only one other has captured my heart, my spirit, my very thoughts in the same fashion as that very first one, St. Elmo, high atop a mountain in the historic state itself of Colorado.

I was in Colorado, in the energizing little town of Buena Vista, visiting my brother and his wife, and was there with my husband and two of my three children. On a morning when my brother was going to take my husband fishing, my sister-in-law suggested that my daughter and I go with her to visit a real ghost town. My youngest son was left to decide on which group of adults he would go with, and the ghost town won. So, after packing a light lunch, and my sister-in-law announcing that we needed to stop in town to grab a bag of sunflower seeds, we were soon on our way. I had thought that the sunflowers were needed for one of her feeders that she keeps inside of her fenced garden, but soon realized we needed them for our visit to St. Elmo. Heading south out of Buena Vista, via highway 285, we turned west on County road 162, and after following a few signs, for my benefit, not my sister-in-law’s, as she assured me she knew the way blindfolded as it was one of her favorite spots in all of Colorado, we soon were climbing a gravel, dirt road up the side of a mountain. Along the way, she instructed us to obey all of the signs posted, and went on to tell us that even though St. Elmo was a ghost town, it was home to several private residents, and that though tourists were welcome in many of the town’s buildings, they were not welcome in all, as they were private homes.

When we pulled into town, all I can remember many years later was the fact that I was awestruck by the surrounding beauty, and by the thought that a long time ago, a group of very resilient people without the aid of cars, had made there way to the top of this breathtaking beauty and decided to call it home. What was left a good many decades later was no less awe-inspiring.

The general store was as if it had stepped out of a storybook from some past century. The one difference being the eclectic display of what was to us antiques, both inside and out, and that many of the items on display and for sale, would not have been stacked about as they were now, as they would have been being used just to get by, items such as oil lamps, and shovels.

After browsing in the general store, we wandered back outside and walked up the wooden boardwalk, glimpsing a wisp of what once had been. One house was under construction, or I should say reconstruction, and even though it was to be a private home, the owner recognized my sister-in-law from her frequent visits and invited us in. The building was magnificent to say the least, and we were treated to a tour that has filled my dreams of the old west ever since.

When I thought our day was ending, my sister-in-law asked my daughter to go and fetch the sunflower seeds from the car, and told her to meet us across the street from the general store. It was a quiet day, and on future visits, I was never surprised to see what I was about to encounter, yet the wonder of it all has never ceased to amaze me. A pile of very old lumber was piled up, and as we sat down with sunflower seeds in hand, it was as if the ghosts of all the past inhabitants of the town were deciding if they should come out to greet us. Instead, a whole village of chipmunks came pouring down the backside of the lumber pile to scamper into our laps, onto our shoulders, and right into our hands for a treat that they knew wise visitors would bring. I have seen tame chipmunks before, but never in the multitude, or of the disposition that this group greets visitors to the ghost town of St. Elmo. Visit St. Elmo for a peek into Colorado’s historic past!

Viewing the Ancient Monuments of Rome

One of the reasons Rome has been a major tourist destination for as long as it has is the fact that there are so many different appealing aspects of the city.  For example, some tourists might prefer to go to Rome to tour all of the wonderful churches.  That would certainly be a dream vacation for any architecture aficionados.  Others might want to go to Rome to sample some of the fabulous food, or to shop at upscale boutiques that sell authentic Prada and Gucci goods.  And still others might want to catch a glimpse of Roman antiquity.

Indeed, one of the most striking things about the city is that there are modern buildings located right next to ancient ruins.  Not many places could pull of this kind of dual existence, but it seems perfectly natural in Rome.  You’ll have to see it for yourself to understand what I mean.  If you are planning a trip to Rome in the near future, here are some of the ancient sights that should be on the top of your list of things to see.

The Colosseum (or Coliseum)
The Colosseum is definitely one of the most recognizable structures in all of Rome.  It was built during the eight-year span from 72 to 80 A.D., and was originally known as the Flavian Amphitheater.  It was basically a huge stadium that was used as an arena of entertainment for the Romans.  According to many historical accounts, a lot of the Roman emperors enjoyed putting on mock battles in the Colosseum.  There were even times when the emperors staged mock naval skirmishes by flooding the Colosseum and bringing real boats into the arena.  In addition, the Colosseum was also the scene of many bloody battles to the death.  It was the arena in which gladiators could make a name for themselves as skilled fighters, or where slaves could win their freedom by conquering opponents time and again.  Another favorite pastime of the Romans was to see humans fight it out against animals.  

One of the reasons the Colosseum is so recognizable today is due to the fact that it has been severely damaged over the centuries.  The upper wall of the structure is entirely missing in one section, which gives the Colosseum its distinctive look.  Most of the damage was inflicted by nature in the form of lightning strikes and earthquakes, but some of the destruction was carried out by man.  For example, much of the Colosseum, including the bench seating, was made of marble.  This marble was later taken out and used in the construction of other structures, such as St. Peter’s church.

Today, the Colosseum is admired for its innovative engineering as much as for its age.  In fact, some of the techniques used in the construction of the Colosseum are used in modern designs.  It is still possible to walk around inside the Colosseum and see some of the views that the ancient Romans surely saw.  The Colosseum is also beautifully lit up at night, so consider an evening viewing for something a bit different.  Unfortunately, the structural integrity of the Colosseum continues to decay year by year, and there is occasionally some talk of shutting it down to tourists.  Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

The Pantheon
The Pantheon is a large temple that was built to honor the Roman gods and goddesses of antiquity.  The structure that stands today is actually not the original Pantheon, but it dates back to ancient times nonetheless.  The original Pantheon was completed in the year 25 B.C., when Marcus Agrippa was consul of Rome — which is why the inscription over the door bears his name.  But that Pantheon was later destroyed by a fire, and had to be rebuilt.  This was done in the year 125 A.D., so we’re still talking about a structure that is many centuries old.

Today, most tourists visit the Pantheon to admire its architecture, which makes prolific use of sunken interior panels and other devices which helped to support the weight of the circular roof.  This is the only explanation that scholars have been able to come up with to explain how the concrete roof hasn’t collapsed in under its own weight.

Perhaps the most famous part of the building is its so-called Great Eye, which is a 27-foot wide opening in the roof.  But there are many other notable features of the Pantheon, including Corinthian columns, large bronze doors, and numerous arches.  

Visitors also come to pay their respects to a few famous Italians who call the Pantheon their final resting place.  The Renaissance artist Rafael, and former kings Umberto I and Vittorio Emanuele II are entombed there.

The Roman Forum
The Roman Forum was, for all intents and purposes, the city center of ancient Rome.  This is where daily activities such as shopping at markets, business trading, and politics took place.  Eventually, the forum came to hold courts of law and the senate building, too.  

These days, there are still many things for tourists to see on a walk through the ruins of the ancient forum.  Be warned, however, that at any given time, certain sections of the Forum might be inaccessible due to repairs or some other projects that are going on.  For the most part, you should be able to see a great deal if you walk from one end of the forum to the other.  

First of all, you should take a look at the Curia, which was the senate building.  Next, you should make sure to stop by the Temple of Caesar, which was constructed in 29 B.C. to honor Julius Caesar.  Many people still put flowers on the altar of the temple in remembrance of Caesar.  Other notable monuments and structures that are considered part of the Roman Forum include:  the Arch of Titus, the Temple of Saturn, the Arch of Septimius Severus, the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, the Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine, the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the Temple of Romulus, the Temple of Jupiter, the Temple of Venus and Roma, and the Temple of Vesta.

Terme di Caracalla (The Baths of Caracalla)
Large public bathhouses were an important part of ancient Roman culture.  Going to the public bath was more like going out for an evening of entertainment than anything else.  It was a time of enjoyment and relaxation, where one could socialize with friends and take in the peaceful surroundings at leisure.  

The Baths of Caracalla is a very large complex that was completed in the year 219 A.D. Along with an adequate pipe system that allowed for the continual flow of both hot and cold water, as well as a drainage system that kept the baths as clean as possible, the complex featured heated rooms (similar to today’s saunas), dressing rooms, and massage rooms.

Today, visitors are free to wander through the vast complex to admire the grand scope of the undertaking.  You’ll be amazed at how well the baths are laid out and at the sheer size of some of the rock structures within it.

The Circus Maximus
The Circus Maximus was another place that the ancient Romans gathered for wild entertainment.  The most famous type of entertainment, by far, were the chariot races.  According to most historians, the track of the Circus Maximus was large enough to hold nearly a dozen chariots — which were breathlessly watched by the more than 150,000 spectators in the stands.  Some parts of the track were purposely made dangerous in order to provide more excitement for the viewers, and it wasn’t uncommon for charioteers to lose their lives during these events.  

Today, the only thing that remains of the original Circus Maximus is the oval shape of the track.  It is now a public park that is frequently used by university students and others as a place to play sports such as soccer or rugby.  Even though there’s nothing left of the arena, it would still be worth your while to visit the site.  It’s fun to walk around the length of the track and imagine what it would have been like to be a charioteer in ancient times.  In addition, you’ll get a great view of the imperial palace directly behind the Circus Maximus track.

The Column of Trajan
The Column of Trajan might not be as big in scale as the other destinations listed here, but it is just as significant in terms of the history of Rome.  The column was erected as a means to commemorate the military success of the Emperor Trajan, who was head of the Roman Empire from  the year 98 A.D. to the year 117 A.D.  

The height of the Column of Trajan is generally given as 29.77 meters, and it is approximately 3.7 meters in diameter.  It stands in a section of the city known as Trajan’s Forum, which is easily accessible by tourists.  

The most interesting characteristic of the column is how it tells the story of Trajan’s military victories over the Dacians, who were an ancient Germanic Tribe.  The column is covered in bas relief figures that wind their way around the structure in a spiral.  It is estimated that there are around 2,500 carved figures in all on the column, which took a year to complete.  Unfortunately, only a very small percentage of these figures is actually discernable by someone standing on the ground.  

Originally, a statue of the Emperor Trajan stood atop the column, but it was lost during the Middle Ages and never recovered.  These days, the statue that visitors see atop the column is actually St. Peter.  It is thought that the original structure also contained extensive use of color and other accessories that have long since been lost.

After the Emperor Trajan died in the year 117, his ashes were deposited in the base of the column.  

These days, the Column of Trajan is still a popular monument among tourists, despite the difficulty they have of seeing all the details.  It would definitely be a nice experience for you to go and view the column, as long as you know before you go that you won’t be able to see every single detail, and that it can be difficult to get a good angle for photographs.


Have You Heard of Folkston, Georgia?

Chances are that you have not heard of it. Folkston is a small town with a population of around 2,500 people. I will admit that I am biased because I grew up there, but it actually has one of the most amazing natural attractions I have ever visited. The Okefenokee Swamp is the largest freshwater swamp east of the Mississippi River. It covers a massive area of land in southeast Georgia and northeast Florida.

The Swamp is an annual attraction for tens of thousands of tourists who are looking for an amazing trip without the hype of many tourist attractions. Folkston’s entrance, one of several, is not the most popular of the entrances. It is the best choice for nature lovers, however. A couple of the entrances are fairly commercialized, but the entrance is Folkston is a wonderful nature experience.

If you plan to visit, be sure to make time to go on the boardwalk. If you have never experienced a walk in the woods, then you are in for a treat. You will be walking over the boardwalk, of course, so you will not be traipsing through the woods on your own. The walk is about a mile long with shaded rest areas along the way if you need them. Once you reach the end of the walk, you will be able to climb a tower, from which you can look out over miles of beautiful swampland. You will be able to see all types of wildlife from deer to birds to alligators.

The Swamp is most famous for the alligators you will see lazing around even when people are nearby. A visit to the Okefenokee is not for the faint of heart. It is likely that you will see alligators up close. If you scare easily, then this trip may not be for you. (The same applies if you do not have healthy fears. You could get hurt.) For most people, however, seeing the gators up close and personal is a unique experience and one they will remember.

If you want to know more about the Swamp’s history, learn about wildlife, or see a stuffed gator, you can visit the entrance museum. The museum, which is free with a nominal parking fee, shows you about the history of the people who inhabited the lands in the past and will teach you about the types of birds and other creatures that share those lands. The Chesser Island homestead, named for one of the earliest families in the area, will allow you to see how people lived in the “old days.” You can see how people made meat using smokehouses, how they made and sharpened their own tools, and what the inside of their homes looked like. On certain days, such as at the Okefenokee Festival the second weekend in October, you will be able to see lye soap and cane syrup being made. You cannot duplicate these experiences by watching films or otherwise being a third-party observer; this opportunity is rare indeed. Instead, you can experience the fun of nineteenth century America in a wonderful natural environment.

Another option is to walk one of the many nature trails available at the Okefenokee. These trails are not guided, but they are not dangerous either as long as you stay on the trails already in place for you. Walking the trails will give you an idea of what it is like in nature. The Swamp is home to dozens of endangered species, such as the red-cockated woodpecker, which lives only in certain trees. The trails have notes along the way to let you know what types of wildlife you should be on the lookout for and to help you identify the ones you do see.

You also can opt for a guided boat tour by one of the seasoned guides working at the Swamp. You can ask questions and ride through the dark brown waters into the swamp. Tours are inexpensive and last for about an hour. You will learn about the peat moss, used to make fuel, and will see other animals that live in the swamp’s depths. This experience is one that nature lovers should not skip! It is rare that you can still find natural environments that are this pristine and elegant.

By Brandi Rhoades

Visiting Religious Sites in Rome

The city of Rome in Italy has been witness to some of the most important events in western civilization.  A significant number of those events have been religious in nature, so it’s no surprise that the Eternal City is the destination of many Catholic pilgrims each and every year.  When in Rome, one thing you won’t lack for is religious sites to visit.  Here are some of the most important places that you ought to schedule some time to see.  (Note:  Vatican City destinations are not covered in this article.)

Scala Sancta (Holy Stairs)
The Scala Sancta are 28 marble stairs that are said to have been transported from the palace of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem to Rome as far back as the year 326.  According to Catholic tradition, these are the very steps that Jesus climbed when He was brought before Pilate.  As a result, the stairs are considered to be very holy.  In fact, religious pilgrims and other visitors are only allowed to ascend the Scala Sancta on their knees.  On any given day, you can see quite a few people engaging in this devotional practice.  There are additional stairs on either side of the Scala Sancta for people who prefer to walk in a more traditional manner.  

The Catacombs of St. Callixtus
The story of the Roman catacombs is pretty familiar to most people.  In the early stages of Christianity, adherents to that religion faced extreme persecution in Rome.  They had to meet in secret, were scared to acknowledge their beliefs in public, and did not have cemeteries where they could properly bury their dead.  So they took to burying their dead deep underground in a series of tunnels that became known as the catacombs.  

Today, you can venture through the dark, chilly, and solemn catacombs of St. Callixtus in Rome.  Of particular importance are the Crypt of the Popes and the Crypt of St. Cecilia.  The Crypt of the Popes contains the remains of no less than nine early Christian popes.  They are:  St. Antherus, St. Dionysius, St. Eutichian, St. Fabian, St. Felix, St. Lucius I, St. Pontianus, St. Sixtus II, and St. Stephen.  

The Crypt of St. Cecilia currently contains a statue representing the position of her body when her sarcophagus was discovered.  St. Cecilia is depicted holding out three fingers on one hand and one finger on the other, which is said to symbolize her belief in the Holy Trinity.  

San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains)
Many early Christians were martyred very near where the current St. Peter in Chains church is situated.  Among those martyrs were St. Peter and St. Paul.  On display under the church’s altar are some chains, which according to Christian tradition were the exact ones used to bind St. Peter’s hands when he was captured and persecuted.  

Also of note in the church is a sculpture by Michelangelo.  His Moses statue, completed in 1545, is one of his most famous works.  The sculpture, which has been studied and revered for hundreds of years, shows a seated Moses, and is nearly eight feet tall.

Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (Basilica of St. Mary Major)
The Basilica of St. Mary Major is one of the oldest churches in Rome and is of course dedicated to the Virgin Mary.  Construction of the church was completed in the 5th century under the rule of Pope Sixtus III.  Saint Mary Major is widely renowned for its stunning architecture and artwork, including:  the highest bell tower in Rome, mosaic artwork, Athenian columns, and a gilded ceiling.  Under the Blessed Sacrament chapel is a crypt containing the remains of St. Jerome, who is most remembered for translating the Bible into Latin, which made it accessible to common people (thus the Latin version is called the Vulgate).  

The Basilica of St. Mary Major is still a very prominent part of Catholicism today.  In fact, every year on August 15, the Pope visits the church to celebrate mass.  August 15, incidentally, is the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, which is why it’s such a special day.  

During other days of the year, a specially-appointed archpriest presides over the church, occasionally saying Mass and receiving visiting dignitaries from other countries.

Visit Wisconsin

By Christina VanGinkel

Wisconsin is a state that has a bit of something for every type of traveler. If you are in search of a day spent shopping, dining, visiting museums, and a stay in a luxurious hotel to be pampered, then head south to Milwaukee for all the finest of each of these activities. Milwaukee will woo you with a visit to their world-renowned Milwaukee Public Museum, and the Milwaukee Art Museum. Follow up your visit to one of these attractions with a stopover to the Hilton Milwaukee City Center, where you can dine at your choice of three restaurants, then spend the night at the historic Hilton, renowned for its flawless service and 1920’s grandeur style. Jump from the 20’s to modern day with a romp in their new urban Waterpark, Paradise Landing. Milwaukee really does have something to please everyone!

If the outdoors and natural wonders are more to your liking, then head north to the county of Marinette, known as the Waterfall Capital of Wisconsin. With its thirteen waterfalls located across the county, and one just across the border in the county of Dickinson in beautiful Upper Michigan, you will need at least two days to tour the waterfalls along the scenic route they have mapped out. So popular have they become for visitors in recent years, that bus tours from other countries come specifically to see these natural wonders. Many of the falls are located in county parks that have picnic areas, so come prepared with a packed basket, or stop at one of the many small town eateries along the way for a down-home meal. All of the parks and waterways offer plenty opportunities for photographs, so come prepared with lots of film or an extra memory card.

If a trip that includes kids is in your future, then pick Wisconsin Dells as your destination of choice. Known to many as the Waterpark Capital of the World, they have quite an amazing array of water parks, plus so much more. Home to attractions such as the famous Ripley’s Believe it or Not! Museum, the Dells Boat Tours, Lost Canyon Tours, Tommy Bartlett Shoe, Storybook Gardens, Mid-Continent Railway Museum, and the Timbavati Wildlife Park at Storybook Gardens. After visiting one of these or the many other attractions, top off your stay at one of their famous water parks, such as the Great Wolf Lodge, Noah’s Ark Family Waterpark, Mt. Olympus Water, and Theme Park, or the Kalahari Indoor Waterpark.

Fall brings out visitors en masse to Wisconsin’s beautiful Door County, known for their colorful fall foliage, art and gift shops on nearly every corner and in between, lighthouses, and cherry and apple orchards. Find the true spirit of Wisconsin by including this vacation getaway on your next visit.

Wisconsin truly has something to offer every visitor to the state. With winter activities such as snowmobiling and skiing, and summer activities that include festivals and outdoor concerts, art and craft shows year round, fine dining, shopping, even a pro football team and casinos, Wisconsin is a tourist lover’s must do stop.

A Brief Guide to Paris for First-Timers

There is a particular type of traveler who avoids so-called “tourist traps” at all costs.  Instead, this person prefers to visit places that are a bit more unusual and off the beaten path.  There are certainly advantages to that strategy; however, it doesn’t work in every situation.  For example, if you are visiting Paris for the first time, you should definitely see the following sights.  There will be plenty of time to discover out-of-the-way places on your second visit!

The Louvre
The Louvre is perhaps the most renowned art museum in all the world.  It houses a vast collection that would take many months to view in its entirety, so there’s no need to knock yourself out in an effort to try to “see everything”.  You won’t be able to do that.  Instead, you should do some research into the pieces that make up the museum’s permanent collection, and then choose several works that you wouldn’t forgive yourself for missing.  Then you can go and spend a half a day of productive viewing.  A few of the most notable works of art in the permanent collection include the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory of Samothrace, and The Great Sphinx

Notre-Dame Cathedral
The original Notre-Dame cathedral is one of the most famous gothic churches in all the world.  It is a massive structure that was completed in 1345, and as a result, has been a big part of French history ever since.  For example, it was there that Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of France.  In addition, author Victor Hugo’s classic novel uses Notre-Dame as its primary setting. 

Today’s visitors come to admire both the art and the architecture of the cathedral.  Make sure you take some time to check out the many statues of the saints and the stained-glass windows.  If you want to get a better view of the Gargoyles, you’ll have to climb to the top of one of the two towers.  You’ll be rewarded for your efforts with a magnificent view of the city.

The Eiffel Tower
No first visit to Paris would be complete without a stop at the Eiffel Tower.  This structure was built in 1889 as part of an exhibition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution.  The Tower has three observation decks that can be reached by elevators or stairs, and one of the decks even has a skating rink.  No matter which deck you choose, you’ll get a beautiful view of the city.  Try going at night to view the City of Lights in all its glory.

The Champs Elysees
If you have time, you should take a stroll down one of the most famous avenues in all the world.  Start at the Arc de Triomphe, and walk along the Champs Elysees all the way to the Egyptian obelisk at the Place de la Concorde.  You’ll pass numerous stores, restaurants, and cafes, so be sure to do some shopping and then stop off for a relaxing cup of coffee or a full meal.  

Attractions for Kids in Nagoya, Japan

Traveling can be very hard on children, especially when it involves a foreign country.  Their schedules get turned upside down because of jet lag and the different time zone; they are in a completely new environment with strange sights, foods, and smells; and they have none of the comforts of home around them.  So to take away at lest a bit of the stress that children feel when traveling in a foreign land, you should consider forgoing a few adult-oriented tourist areas for a few attractions that the little ones are sure to love.  The following places would be perfect for you if you and your family visit Nagoya, Japan.

Port of Nagoya Public Aquarium
This aquarium is located near Nagoya Pier and is easily accessible by subway.  There are two separate buildings containing various aqua-themed exhibits that the entire family will enjoy.  You’ll be able to see numerous fish that are native to Japan and Australia, plus an Antarctic marine life display with penguins.  The main attractions are the dolphin shows, as well as the killer whales and beluga whales.

Little World Museum of Man
The Little World Museum of Man is about 30 minutes away from Nagoya by train, but is definitely worth visiting if you have a chance.  Little World is an outdoor museum and its exhibits consist of depictions of daily life from 22 countries around the world.  You’ll be able to walk through and explore more than 30 different housing structures that would typically be found in those countries.  In addition, you can purchase a Little World Passport and get it stamped at each of the different “countries”, which makes for a nice keepsake of your visit.  There are also many restaurants and snack booths where you’ll be able to sample delicious ethnic fare from around the globe.

Nagoya City Science Museum
The Nagoya City Science Museum is a wonderful place for kids to learn about science and technology as they explore all nine floors of the building.  Many of the exhibits are hands-on, which of course makes learning much more exciting for children.  There is also a play area on the ninth floor, so when the kids get tired of the displays, or if you just want to take a break, you can head up there to relax.  In addition to the technology and science exhibits, the museum also has a planetarium on the premises.  You and the kids will be able to sit back and watch an informative movie about the stars, and you’ll also be able to view many interesting displays related to astronomy.

Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens
If your children love animals, then the Higashiyama Zoo should definitely be on your list of places to visit in Nagoya.  Here you’ll see all the animals that you expect to find in a zoo — elephants, giraffes, monkeys, tigers, lions, etc.  In addition to the animals, be sure to stop by the Higashiyama Sky Tower, which will afford you a great view of Nagoya from its observation deck.  

Sightseeing in Nagoya, Japan

Nagoya is in central Japan, and is one of that country’s five largest cities.  The area is the heart of Japan’s automotive manufacturing industry and therefore sees a lot of business travelers throughout the year.  More recently, Nagoya was the host of the 2005 World Expo, so the city is definitely getting additional exposure — though it still lags far behind Tokyo and Kyoto as vacation destinations.  Nevertheless, if you find yourself traveling to Nagoya on either business or pleasure, there are plenty of great things to do and see.  Here are a few of the highlights.

Atsuta Shrine
According to the official Atsuta Shrine website, this place of worship for the Shinto religion has existed in one form or other for more than nineteen hundred years.  The shrine is one of the most famous in all of Japan, and contains relics that are considered very sacred to adherents of Shinto.  Although visitors to Atsuta Shrine are not allowed to view the religious relics,  you’ll be able to walk through the vast grounds and see other things, including the treasure exhibition hall (containing ancient swords, mirrors, masks, documents, etc.) tea ceremony houses, a Noh theater, a giant camphor tree that is said to be more than 1,300 years old, and much more.

Nagoya Castle
The original Nagoya Castle, which was all but razed to the ground in World War II, was built back in the 1600s during the height of the Edo Period of Japanese history.  The current structure is therefore a reconstruction that was completed in 1959.  The castle consists of seven floors, each containing artifacts from Japan’s shogun era.  As with most other Japanese castles, Nagoya Castle is surround by a beautiful, expansive park and garden that is filled with cherry trees and innumerable flowers. 

Italian Village
The Italian Village (also called Little Italy) is a new attraction in Nagoya that opened in 2005.  It is basically a small theme park that is supposed to call forth images of Italy.  There are shops selling Italian goods (ranging from Gucci and Prada to various pastas), restaurants offering Italian fare, and buildings boasting Italian facades.  You can even take a gondola ride on manmade canal. 

Nagoya City Museum
The Nagoya City Museum houses collections that highlight the cultural importance of the Owari region of Japan.  The permanent displays fall under several different headings, including fine art, archaeology, history, and even folk tradition.  You’ll be able to see samurai swords, suits of armor, and other artifacts of this nature.  In addition, the Nagoya City Museum occasionally hosts traveling exhibitions from other museums in the country or around the world. 

Nagoya Dragons Baseball Game
If you’re a sports fan, you’ll want to take in a baseball game at the Nagoya Dome.  The Japanese professional baseball season runs from April to September, just as the American baseball season does.  The Nagoya home team is called the Dragons, and they play in the Central League.  Japanese baseball games are quite different from American games, at least from the fans’ standpoint.  You’ll be treated to constant cheering, chanting, and drumming from a fan-led music section in the outfield bleachers.

Having Fun at Daytona Beach, FL

Although Daytona Beach in Florida is best known as the Spring Break destination of choice for thousands of college students each year, it is a great place for travelers of all ages to have fun at year round.  So if you’re in the process of planning for a trip to Daytona Beach, here are some fun activities that you can check out when you arrive.    Please note that this article discusses activities that are available at the actually beach and does not include things to do in the city of Daytona Beach.

Go Parasailing
There are many parasailing companies that have booths and shacks situated at various locations along the beach.  The prices and equipment are comparable, so I don’t think it really matters which outfit you choose to go with.  You have several options when it comes to selecting your actual experience.  For example, you can choose to go as a single rider or you can choose a tandem ride and go up with a partner.  Some places will also allow you to choose the maximum height that you will be lifted to during your ride.  Finally, you’ll have to choose how long you want your experience to last, with most places requiring a minimum ride of 10 minutes.

Rent an ATV
Renting an ATV is a fun way to explore the wide expanse of Daytona Beach without having to walk back and forth the entire way.  You don’t need a special license or any extra equipment (not even a helmet) to be able to rent an ATV.  You simply turn your driver’s license over as security, pay the nominal fee, and enjoy your ride.  You have to bear in mind that all ATVs are restricted to the rear portion of the beach.  This means you won’t be able to ride near the water or anything.  In addition, the ATVs have been modified to produce a maximum speed of just 10mph or so.  So if you have visions of yourself blasting through sand dunes at full throttle, this activity is definitely not for you!  

Try a boogie board
Boogie boards are among the most popular of the numerous equipment rentals available at Daytona Beach.  We’ve all heard that surfing is too difficult to learn during a short trip to the beach, so why not try boogie boarding instead?  A boogie board is less than half the length of a surfboard, and you can lie down on it to ride it.  It is very easy to learn.  In fact, you’ll be able to understand the basic concept of boogie boarding simply by watching others who are doing it.  Then, you’ll be riding waves all the way back to the beach in no time!  Boogie boards are very inexpensive and will afford you hours of fun.  

Going on vacation to Daytona Beach doesn’t mean that you just have to lie listlessly on the sand for the entire time.  Why not try some of these fun activities and instill a bit of fun and adventure into your trip?

What To Do in Pisa, Italy

If you are planning to visit Rome, you should set aside a day or two to visit Pisa as well.  Pisa is just a few hours north of Rome, and is easily and affordably accessible by rail.  Compared to Rome, Pisa is much smaller, quieter, and more relaxing.  You’ll certainly enjoy your time there, and then you can either continue on to Florence or return to Rome, depending on your itinerary and personal preferences.  When in Pisa, here are some of the things that you should make sure to do.

The Leaning Tower
The Leaning Tower of Pisa has been called the most recognizable building in all the world.  The construction of this bell tower began way back in 1173, but it wasn’t completed until 1350 due to various and lengthy interruptions.  The Leaning Tower is so famous because of the fact that it inclines at about a 5.5 degree angle.  It is also famous because the great scientist Galileo was said to have conducted physics experiments by dropping objects from the top of the tower (although most experts now believe the stories to be merely myths).  

Once at the tower, you can climb to the top of it and be rewarded with a relatively nice view of Pisa.  It’s also popular to have your picture taken with your arms out and hands spread wide as if you’re supporting the Tower.  You’ll see many tourists striking this pose.

Duomo Pisa (Cathedral)
The Duomo is located just a few yards away from the Leaning Tower, so there’s no reason not to stop in and see it.  You’ll certainly admire the architecture of the cathedral.  The interior boasts 68 Corinthian columns and walls of pink and white marble.  It was constructed back in 1063, and would be marvelous for its age alone.  The Duomo Pisa is the largest cathedral of its type in Tuscany.

Santa Maria Della Spina Church
Well, if you’re visiting Italy, you expect to see a lot of churches, right?  This is an interesting little church that was built in 1230.  The “spina” in the name of the church means “thorn”, and comes from the fact that this building was once home to a religious relic of that nature.  

This church has undergone numerous restorations over the years and has unfortunately lost much of its original artwork (statues, etc.) and even some of its original architecture during that time.  Nevertheless, the church is still worth visiting on your day trip to Pisa.

Walk through town
As mentioned above, Pisa is significantly smaller and more laid back than Rome.  In fact, it is a great place to take a relaxing walk while sipping coffee or indulging in a bit of gelato.  The river Arno flows through the city and makes for a very beautiful, scenic walking route.  You’ll definitely feel like you’re in old Italy as you make your way around Pisa on foot.  Just keep the Leaning Tower in sight so you won’t get lost, and you’ll have nothing to worry about.