London is one of the most expensive cities in the world to visit, with some museums costing over $20 for a ticket. But with a little planning the tourist can find plenty of free things in London that are still outstanding.

1)      Westminster Abbey

What’s this doing on a list of free things in London? We approached Westminster Abbey and were shocked to find an admission price of 16 pounds, about $26. For a family of four it would cost over $100 to go to church, granted it’s a famous church, but still. . .

But you can visit Westminster Abbey for free. Five nights a week Evensong services are offered at 5pm (3pm most weekends). This service isn’t highly publicized. To attend the service, walk over to the iron gate by the main entrance to the Abbey, not the side entrance used for paid admissions. Guides wearing bright scarlet capes and stern expressions stand blocking the gate. Tell them you’re there for Evensong and they step aside while cheerfully welcoming you.

The 45-minute service is beautifully rendered by the Abbey choir. There is not much time for strolling about the Abbey after the service but you do get to see enough. In many ways, Evensong is preferable to walking around the Church with hundreds of other visitors during the day. The visitor gets to experience Westminster Abbey for what it was originally designed, worship and prayer.

Click the link for more information and current service times: Westminster Abbey Evensong services.

2)      The Wallace Collection

Free things in London Wallace Collection London

We love museums that can be visited in about an hour or so; with many interesting items on display but whose size isn’t so daunting that we feel like we’re missing most of it. The Wallace Collection, housed in a historic London mansion, is one of those museums. It was owned by five generations of collectors, including a few Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, before becoming a public collection.

The collection has a little something for everyone: 18th-century French masterpieces and furniture, Galleries of Old Master paintings including Rembrandt, medieval religious manuscripts and a sterling collection of swords and armor.  The museum surround an open-air courtyard restaurant for snacks and afternoon tea.

Website: www.WallaceCollection.org

3)      Royal Air Force Museum

Free things in London RAF Museum

The RAF museum is about a 30-minute Tube ride from central London. It has an incredible amount of planes and helicopters on display in four large hangars. As airplane geeks we’ve been to many aviation museums and this may be the largest. One building is devoted to RAF’s derring do in the World War II Battle of Britain. Antique plane enthusiasts will enjoy the collection of pioneering airplanes in the 1917 Grahame-White Hangar, the UK’s first aircraft factory. If you are traveling with young kids there is LOTS of room to run around and burn off some energy.

Website: www.RAFMuseum.org

4)      Museum of the City of London

Free things in London Museum of London

Photo courtesy www.TravelCultureMag.com

Long before the kings, queens and Big Ben, London was a prehistoric settlement and then a Roman outpost. This museum takes the visitor on a time travel tour from the city’s distant past up to the present day. A combination of displays and interactive exhibits hold the attention of all ages. Feel the heat of the Great Fire of 1666, attend an 18th-century garden party and stroll through Victorian streets before going to the movies in the Roaring Twenties and hanging out with Mick Jagger and Twiggy in the 1960’s. The museum’s location gets visitors in the mood: a starkly modern structure built along the remains of ancient Roman Walls.

Website: www.museumoflondon.org.uk

5)  Victoria and Albert Museum

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPhoto courtesy of Walter Lim, Flickr

If decorative arts is your thing, the “V&A” is the place to go. This mammoth museum, located in swanky South Kensington, has some of the world’s largest collections of fashion, textiles, ceramics, jewellery (the “Veddy British” spelling), furniture and glass. Channel your inner designer by viewing the stunning collection of drawings, many of which provide insight on the design process. If you still have the energy, they have wonderful paintings as well.

Note: Although admission is free, the V&A can be a little overwhelming. If you’re pressed for time, or simply prefer to have someone point out the best things to see, we recommend booking this V&A Highlights tour from Viator.

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A few other free things in London:

6)  British Museum – Massive collection of over 8 million objects. www.BritishMuseum.org

7)  National Maritime Museum – The largest maritime museum in the world with pride of place going to Admiral Nelson, including the bloody uniform he was wearing when he was killed at the Battle of Trafalgar. www.rmg.co.uk

8) National Army Museum — Great Britain has a pretty long military history so the Army Museum is a sprawling complex detailing battles going back centuries. I did find one glaring gap though. Their army didn’t seem to be involved in any activity between the War of Spanish Succession that ended in 1714 and the Napoleonic Wars that started in 1795. It seems a little skirmish that occurred in the American colonies has been forgotten.
Web Site: http://www.nam.ac.uk/

[Note: The National Army Museum is temporarily closed until spring 2017 due to a major retrofit.]

9)  The Wellcome Collection – The ghoulish may be interested in this medical collection which includes various body parts and antique medical devices. www.WellcomeCollection.org

10) Tate Modern – We’re not that into modern art, a pile of bricks that looked like they were left by a worker was one of the displays. But if you’re into that sort of thing this is the place to see them. Here’s information on visiting the Tate Modern.

Bonus Pick:

11) Abbey Road – Don’t forget to be a Beatle for a day and cross Abbey Road. It’s free and a lot of fun. Here’s information on how to cross Abbey Road.

This list highlighted 11 free things to do in London. Here’s a list of the 25 best things to do in London.

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Here are the top books about traveling to London.

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

World ExpeditionsAlthough we’ve traveled to more than 50 countries, there is one part of the world that we haven’t visited. The fabled Silk Road through Central Asia is an area that fascinates us.

Visiting the Silk Road-Samarkand

Visiting the Silk Road: Caravans and Ancient Civilizations

The Silk Road was actually a series of ancient trade routes. It wound its way from China through the Middle East and on to Europe. Centuries before Christ it was the lifeblood for many civilizations.

For us it’s always been evocative of caravans winding their way through the desert. We envision camels at the fore as they brought silk, aromatic spices, and other goods from the East. Historic oasis towns along the route with names like Samarkand and Bukhara even sound exotic. They seem like otherworldly outposts come to rest on Earth.

Visiting the Silk Road: Caravanserai

Somehow central Asia gets lost in the shuffle of Asian travel destinations. People generally focus on China or Southeast Asia. But most tourists haven’t yet discovered the countries (often known as the “Stans”) tucked away in central Asia. We’re love the “off the beaten path” aspect of this slice of the planet.

As readers of this blog are aware, Larissa and I prefer to travel independently. The only group tour we’ve taken was to North Korea, where it was a requirement of visiting the country. While researching travel to Central Asia we realized that an area so remote and unspoiled by tourists also meant a region unused to independent travelers. Coordinating our own road trip would be a difficult task. When exploring the Silk Road, it’s a better idea to travel with someone who knows the intricacies of the local culture and customs.

Visiting the Silk Road: Market stall with exotic spices

Visiting the Silk Road: Practical Issues

As we researched tourism companies that operate in Central Asia, one called World Expeditions kept popping up. Many of their tours are geared toward our demographic: active 45 to 60-year-olds. We fall right into that category (albeit, for just a few more years.) We enjoy a bit of hiking, but we don’t want to cover 10 miles a day getting from place to place.

World Expeditions offers tours to every continent and has been around since 1975, so while trekking tours like these are gaining in popularity, they were doing it before just about everyone else. They’ve earned a strong reputation for their unique itineraries, as well as the quality of their local teams. And they were also ahead of the game in terms of “Responsible Tourism,” a concept that we support. We like their Porter Protection program, which ensures that the safety needs of the local tour guides are as important as those of the paying customers.

Visiting the Silk Road-local man in Kashgar

World Expeditions appeals to us, since it caters to discerning travelers who want to truly experience a destination. They focus on a more enriching experience by learning more about the culture. You can only gain this type of knowledge by going “in country.”

Visiting the Silk Road: Our Wishlist Best Mountain Trek

In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great” would qualify for our Best Mountain Trek, i.e. the trek at the top of our wish list. It’s a kind of tour/trek that offers just the right amount of activity to keep us busy, without grinding our middle-aged bones to dust. It starts and ends in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, while meandering through some of our must-see destinations. Samarkand, Bukhara, Termez, and Khujand, and are on the itinerary. Don’t those names just inspire wanderlust? You get to explore remnants of some of the oldest civilizations on Earth, including historic mosques, bazaars, and palaces.

worldex_interior_architecture_in_samarkand

Before America had yet to be “discovered,” advanced civilizations in central Asia were building stunning architectural marvels. We’re itching to see Registan Square in Samarkand, festooned with minarets intricately decorated with turquoise and azure tiles. In between these ancient cities, the expedition journeys through varying landscapes of stark desert, mountains, and alpine lakes.

Visiting the Silk Road: Haggling over carpets?

One of my main desires for traveling the Silk Road is to explore the bazaars teeming with local products. I love oriental rugs . . . just ask Larissa—when we owned a home I tore up the wall-to-wall carpeting just so I could have more floors to cover with oriental carpets! I have always dreamed of visiting one of these bazaars and haggling with rug merchants over colorful, geometrically patterned carpets. (I’ll leave it to Larissa to figure out how to fit them into our suitcases.)

We always joke that the more places we visit, the longer our wish list gets. But exploring the Silk Road is definitely one of the destinations at the top.

To learn more about “In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great,” and other World Expeditions treks go to the World Expeditions website.

Visiting the Silk Road-Tashkent

Thanks to World Expeditions for assistance with this post.

Christmas in New Zealand and Australia comes in the summertime so it was a bit different for us, northerners raised with visions of a “White Christmas.” In Auckland, we stood on the sidewalk waiting for the Santa Parade and took in the crowd around us; it was the usual mix of families, old-timers and teens traveling in packs. One thing was different though for a December activity, almost everyone was wearing t-shirts and shorts under the watchful gaze of palm trees and sunny blue skies.

Christmas in New Zealand Santa in Auckland parade

It’s beginning to look a lot like . . . wait, what?

Due to the balmy weather Christmas Day traditions include firing up some shrimp on the “barbie”, sailing on the turquoise tinged waters of Waitemata harbor or playing a game of cricket in the park. That may not be much different from warm places in America like Miami or San Diego; but we doubt that the highlight of those cities’ Christmas Parades is a giant balloon of a Kiwi bird wearing a Santa Claus hat.

Christmas in New Zealand Kiwi bird Auckland parade

A Christmas tradition in New Zealand, the kiwi bird.

A “White Christmas” even in summer

We joined the crowd in cheering on the floats featuring beach and surfing scenes. But when it came time for the big guy, Santa himself, the palm trees were just a memory. His float was covered in white with “snow” covered trees and a castle. Even Down Under, the dream of a White Christmas lives on.

Many smaller towns host Santa Parades as well. Dunedin on the South Island featured that old Christmas chestnut, Snoopy and longtime nemesis the Red Baron engaged in a blocks long dogfight down the main drag. We’re not sure what it had to do with Christmas but the kids seemed to eat it up.

Run, Santa, Run

Christmas in New Zealand Santa run for charity

Santas and surfers come together in New Zealand.

A new event is the Santa Run to raise money for the KidsCan charity. The race takes place in seven cities throughout New Zealand. For a donation each runner is given a Santa suit to wear. Race veterans often show up in homemade outfits as elves or reindeer. The run in Dunedin takes place on the beach with the starting line just across from the local pub. It’s easy to find affordable hotels in Dunedin close by. There was clearly a party atmosphere but fortunately the race, if it can be called that, was mercifully short so casualties were few.

Dunedin santa run on beach

Cue the “Chariots of Fire” music. 

New Zealanders also include customs of the first settlers of this land, the Maori. Christmas cards and decorations bear Maori motifs while many dig into a Maori treat called a hangi. Similar to a Hawaiian luau, hot stones are placed in a hole in the ground and then lamb, potatoes and whatever else strikes the chef’s fancy are placed on top of the stones to bake. A warm Meri Kirihimete is wished: that’s Maori for Merry Christmas. Not so different from the Hawaiian Mele Kalikimaka.

Maori float Auckland Christmas parade

A tribute to the original island people, the Maori.

Christmas in Australia

Across the Tasman Sea the Aussies have put a unique spin on Santa’s flight path. Apparently it’s too hot in the Outback for reindeer, so Santa is propelled by six white “boomers,” also known as kangaroos. One bush country resident, innkeeper Deb Wright, said, “It’s so hot that we usually have cold meats and salads for the main meal and much beer is also consumed due to the delirious heat.”  Despite the weather, stores are decorated with snow-filled winter scenes.

Queen Victoria building Sydney Christmas tree

The Christmas tree at the Queen Victoria Building in Sydney is the only one we’ve seen that visitors can walk under.

Christchurch recovers

The holiday season was a poignant time in Christchurch last year. The city suffered a devastating earthquake that destroyed the downtown and killed 181 people. There was talk of cancelling the annual Santa Parade due to the traditional downtown parade route being closed off for safety reasons. However, the parade was rerouted and went on.

Over 100,000 people, one-quarter of the town’s population, turned out for the event which provided a much need lift to local spirits. We spoke with one woman, a nurse who was preparing a patient for surgery at St. George’s hospital when the quake struck. “It’s certainly been a challenging year,” she said. “But we’ll survive and rise above it.”

Christchurch Angel Gabriel

In Christchurch a message of hope for the New Year.

The international symbol of the devastation wrought on the city was the heavily damaged Christchurch Cathedral. At Christmastime last year three larger-than-life sculptures of angels were hung from the rafters. However, due to the quake the building was rendered unsafe and will eventually be demolished. This year the angels are being suspended from construction cranes that are assisting in the rebuilding. The angels represent consolation, comfort and hope. What fitting symbols to watch over the residents of Christchurch during this season of birth and renewal.

Santa Ballantynes Christchurch New Zealand

You’re never too old to pose with Santa Claus, here at Ballantynes in Christchurch.

And if you are planning to visit New Zealand, don’t make the same mistake we did and make sure you have a roundtrip ticket. We almost got deported flying to New Zealand on a one-way ticket.

We’ve been traveling around the world as global nomads since 2011. To receive free monthly updates and valuable travel tips from us sign up here.

Playing pinball across America

Back in 2011, when we sold our home and jettisoned our possessions to start our global odyssey, one item we missed was our Genie vintage pinball machine. Fortunately, there are plenty of places to play pinball across America, one of which is not too far from our former hometown of Philadelphia. We’ll even show you how to find your favorite pinball games to play around the world.

Pinball Hall of Fame Las Vegas

Pinball Hall of Fame, Las Vegas, NV: For a break from the flashing lights of the casinos, head two miles off the strip to the National Pinball Hall for some flashing lights of a different nature. Aficionado Tim Arnold has over 250 vintage pinball games on display and, best of all, they are in tip-top playing condition. Tip: To really stretch your playing time seek out the older machines where you still get five balls for 25 cents. www.PinballMuseum.org

playing-at-pinball-hall-of-fame-las-vegas-america

Seattle Pinball Museum, Seattle, WA: Located in Seattle’s Chinatown district, this museum is run by the husband and wife team of Cindy and Charlie Martin. More than 50 games are available for a single admission fee. www.SeattlePinballMuseum.com

Pacific Pinball Museum

Level Up Arcade, Eugene, OR: This combination arcade and bar is popular with students from the nearby University of Oregon. Although it’s a bar, those under 21 are allowed to play until 9 p.m., after that it’s time for the grown-ups to act like kids on the 25 pinball machines. www.LevelUpArcade.com

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Free Gold Watch, San Francisco, CA: Maybe the odd name of this pinball arcade has something to do with its funky location in the heart of Haight-Ashbury. This is a popular venue for local pinball leagues and tournaments. Free Gold Watch

Pacific Pinball Museum

Pacific Pinball Museum, Alameda, CA: Located in the shadow of San Francisco on Alameda Island, this arcade takes the title of museum seriously by offering classes on the cultural history and unique artwork of pinball in America. To make all this learning fun, five rooms are packed with 100 historic machines on which to play. www.PacificPinball.org

D & D Pinball, Tucson, AZ: In Tucson’s hip “Fourth Avenue District,” 29 games are set up for play. A popular hang-out for University of Arizona students.  It’s worth the trip to see the very cool pinball-themes murals painted by Nicolas Sanchez. 331 E 7th St, Tucson (NW corner of 4th Ave & 7th St) D & D Pinball

genie-pinball-machineSilverball Museum Arcade, Asbury, Park, NJ: Closer to home, the Silverball Museum Arcade provides a festive time right on the Asbury Park boardwalk. While it’s billed as a museum, it’s definitely of the “please touch” variety as you can play the more than 100 games (and Michael can play his beloved Genie) for a reasonable hourly fee; so there’s no need to keep reaching for quarters. And since this is the Jersey Shore after all, you can also feast on funnel cakes and salt-water taffy from the café. Note: They’ve also opened an arcade called the Silverball Museum in Delray Beach, Florida. We haven’t been to that one yet but it’s on our list. www.SilverballMuseum.com

Whether you’re traveling from Soho or down to Brighton and you want to play them all, here’s a handy website to find pinball machines around the world during your travels: pinside.com/pinball/map

Pacific Pinball Museum

We’re your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

The Best Men’s Travel Shoes

Larissa has written about the best travel shoes for women, but now it’s my turn to talk about the best mens travel shoes.

I have only two pairs of shoes with me, both by Ecco. I’ve worn Eccos almost exclusively for about 20 years. They are cut slightly wider in the toe box so they accommodate my size E foot (somewhere between wide and regular).

The pair that I wear almost daily is the Track 5 plain toe low. It’s a brown nubuck style that’s generic enough to go with anything. They were already several years old before the trip started so I thought about getting a new pair. But I figured they’d just get beat up anyway so I decided to wear them as long as they’d hold up. So far they’ve held up great.

best mens travel shoes

The Eccos were great for a steep hike up to the Tasman Glacier on the South Island of New Zealand.

They started their journey in August, 2011 at the top of the Rocky Steps in our hometown of Philadelphia. Some of their adventures so far have included: hiking along the Great Wall of China, climbing to the top of the ancient ruins at Angkor Wat, spending the night in a cave at a Bedouin camp and yet still looking stylish enough to wear on the streets of Paris.  They even survived being left outside during a torrential downpour in Bali where the next morning they were as full as bathtubs. They dried out by evening and were ready to wear to dinner.

For warmer weather I wear their Cerro yak leather sandals. I bought them at The Walking Company store in Philadelphia. The salesman explained that yak leather is soft but highly durable. The Ecco web site sounds like it is describing the latest in fighter plane gizmos with these shoes: full length Receptor Technology and side stabilizer frames. I wondered where the ripcord was. Ecco does not recommend them for water use but they’ve gotten soaked and lived to talk about it.

If you’re looking for durable, comfortable shoes that aren’t so bulky they look like you forgot to take them out of the box, I highly recommend Ecco shoes.

Please note: These shoes were my own purchases and I am not paid to endorse Ecco. (Oh how I wish.)

UPDATE: February, 2017. After a decade I am still wearing the Ecco Track 5 Plain Toe but I’ve been wearing them so long the model is now called Track 6.  The pair I’ve been wearing were made in Europe. I notice that some Ecco shoes are now made in China, so check first on the model you’re interested in. Quite frankly, I wouldn’t pay a premium price for Chinese made shoes.

Like this? Share it on Pinterest!Mens travel shoes|best travel shoes for men|review Ecco shoes for men

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

During the two years I spent driving around the country visiting car museums for my new book, the Roadster Guide to America’s Classic Car Museums & Attractions, I was pleased to see the high number of car museums in Pennsylvania, my home state. Here’s a review of a handful of these car museums in Pennsylvania, including the opportunity to see five rare Tuckers in one day.

Car Museums in Pennsylvania

Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum

Simeone foundation Museum Philadelphia

The Simeone is a hidden gem located in a former engine remanufacturing facility near the Philadelphia airport.  In 2014 it was awarded “Car of the Year” for its 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe. The museum owes its existence to the passion of one man, neurosurgeon Fred Simeone. Over the course of a half-century he’s collected over 60 of the world’s greatest racing cars, all of which still run. Come for the popular twice-monthly “Demonstration Days,” when you can watch some of the cars get taken for a spin on the 3-acre back lot.

The oldest vehicle here is a 1909 American Underslung that raced in long-distance events. Other cars are displayed according to where they raced (Watkins Glen, Bonneville Salt Flats, Brooklands, and more) or by the races they entered. Among them are Le Mans, the Targa Florio in Sicily, and the Mille Miglia. With so many sleek Italian racing cars on display, the museum sometimes looks more like a modern sculpture gallery.

Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles

Mister Softee truck Boyertown vehicle museum

Founded in 1965, the Boyertown Museum of Historic Vehicles includes gasoline-, steam-, and electric-propelled vehicles as well as toy cars, carriages, and sleighs. The main exhibit area occupies the former Boyertown Auto Body Works, where truck bodies were built from 1926 through 1990. A few of these trucks have returned home and are now on display. The focus is on Pennsylvania-built cars, reflecting the Keystone State’s importance in the early development of the automobile.

The 1872 Hill is one of the earliest autos in existence. Teenager James Hill built it in Fleetwood, PA. The 1913 SGV Touring Car, built 15 miles west of here in Reading, featured a push-button transmission. One of my favorite vehicles is a 1958 Ford Mister Softee Ice Cream Truck just like the one that blared the ubiquitous theme song around my neighborhood when I was a kid; they were all built in this building.

The museum also features roadside architecture, with a 1921 Sun Oil cottage-style service station and the 1938 Reading Diner.

William E. Swigart, Jr. Automobile Museum

Two Tuckers Swigart auto museum Pennsylvania

The William E. Swigart, Jr. Automobile Museum seems an unlikely place to spot not one, but two Tuckers, yet here they are. One of them might be considered the Tucker: the coveted 1947 Tucker ’48 Prototype Tin Goose—the very first Tucker made along with another Tucker 48, one of only 51 ever produced.

The rest of the museum features a rotating exhibit of 35 of the approximately 150 cars purchased by Swigart and his father, insurance tycoon W. Emmert Swigart.  There’s also the largest collection I’ve ever seen of international license plates and antique car logo badges. The photo below shows just a few of them.

antique car insignias Swigart Museum

Note: The Swigart Museum is open from Memorial Day weekend through October 31.

Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) Museum

AACA Museum hershey Kissmobile

The Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) Museum in Hershey, is the home of three Tuckers in the newly created Cammack Tucker Gallery. The vehicle made famous in the 1988 movie Tucker: The Man and His Dream is one of the classic cars most prized by collectors.  The gallery is filled with Tucker-related paraphernalia including engines, parts, and mechanical drawings. The newest exhibit at the AACA Museum is a tribute to driving along Route 66. It’s rare to see buses in museums and the AACA doesn’t disappoint: In the lower level is the Museum of Bus Transportation that contains a rare look at this form of transportation. Included in the collection is a 1959 GM Coach that made an appearance in Forrest Gump.

Rolls-Royce Foundation

In appropriately named Mechanicsburg is a salute to the pinnacle of automotive luxury. Tucked away on a winding, two-lane country road, luxury car aficionados will find the Rolls-Royce Foundation, a museum and library celebrating the coveted vehicles.

Rolls Royce car Museums in Pennsylvania

The main gallery holds about a dozen Rolls-Royces and Bentleys, the brand purchased by Rolls-Royce in 1931. A skeletal 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom, shown without a body, demonstrates just what a discriminating buyer got for all that money. Initially Rolls-Royce provided only the high-end engines and chassis, not the complete vehicles we see today. Customers took the engine to an independent coach builder to customize, which is why each early Rolls model was virtually unique.

Grice Clearfield Community Museum

Its not often you find a car museum where a wild turkey is lurking among the cars; the turkey in question here is a stuffed one that’s frozen in time alongside a tail-finned 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air. Lynn “Scoot” Grice, an avid hunter, founded this museum where more than 800 stuffed trophy game mounts share space with 75 automobiles.

Grice Clearfield car museum in Pennsylvania

One of the highlights of the collection is the display of seven Crosley cars; built by Cincinnati industrialist Powell Crosley, the quirky, compact-sized autos have a cult following. Another rarity here is a 1932 Rockne, a model produced for two years by Studebaker as a tribute to the legendary Notre Dame football coach who had died in an airplane crash the year before. Studebaker was headquartered in South Bend, Indiana, also the home of Notre Dame.

Eagles Mere Auto Museum

1947 Ford Sportster Woody wagon

In the bucolic town of Eagles Mere (located just north of Little League World Series setting Williamsport) the Eagles Mere Auto Museum and the Eagles Mere Air Museum offer glimpses into the bygone days of road and air transport.

Eagles Mere car museums Pennsylvania

Car museums Pennsylvania Eagles MereThe collection of 75+ cars offers a huge “wow” factor. The focus is on American-made cars and trucks from the 1950s and ’60s, including a “Class of ’69” section with ten Chevy Camaros sporting different styles and engine configurations that will have Muscle Car fans drooling. There’s a collection of six “woodie” station wagons with my favorite, a 1947 Ford Sportster Woodie Convertible. (Pictured above.)

At the Eagles Mere Air Museum, all of the vintage aircraft, including a 1917 “Jenny” biplane, are regularly taken out and flown. In addition to almost 30 planes, the museum sports a collection of reconstructed vintage engines, along with exhibits of rare artifacts celebrating early aviation pioneers.

Roadster Guide to America's Classic Car MuseumsThe second edition of my book, the Roadster Guide to America’s Classic Car Museums & Attractions, provides greater detail for each of these car museums in Pennsylvania, plus many more in the Keystone State. Pennsylvania offers a real bonanza for vintage car buffs.

 

 

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28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Sometime I select destinations just to see very tall buildings, which has gotten us to places as far flung as Dubai, Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur. But in Bucharest, Romania we met up with a unique one: the world’s heaviest building. You read that right. It’s not the world’s largest or tallest but the world’s heaviest building. I’m not even sure how one calculates a building’s weight but there you have it. Don’t just take my word on it, even the good folks at Guinness World Records have declared the Palace of the Parliament the world’s heaviest building. (BTW, it’s also, after the Pentagon, the world’s second largest government building.)

World's heaviest building Bucharest

During the 1980s dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu decided Romania should have a massive world-class building to reflect the country’s might during his rule.

Worlds heaviest building Romania

He razed about 1/6th of the city to build this monument to himself. Unfortunately, a major portion of the old city was demolished to make way for the development.

Palace of the people interior Bucharest Romania

Designed by 28-year-old architect Anca Petrescu, it is known as the Palace of the Parliament and houses the seat of Romanian government. The building holds over one thousand rooms (over half of which is empty) and is made of all Romanian materials. There are an additional eight floors which are underground. In addition to government offices, it now also hosts the National Museum of Contemporary Art. Ceaușescu never saw the building completed. He was executed on Christmas day, 1989, after a bloody, but relatively quick, revolution.

Palace of the Parliament Bucharest

We also visited the neighborhood where the communist party apparatchiks lived. As is usually the case, their homes were much nicer than the common folk. We stood outside Ceaușescu’s former home, which was surprisingly modest, and learned that if we had been standing on that same spot 30 years earlier we would have been arrested and executed. Times have certainly changed for the better in Bucharest.

Palace of the Parliament Bucharest exterior side view

Considering the dark times the city endured, it was one of our favorite places to visit. Bucharest offers diverse architecture and sights along with a unique culture that we enjoy. For digital nomads like us it also has the fastest Internet in Europe; even taxis are WiFi hotspots and the driver will give you a WiFi code to use during your ride. This is particularly helpful on the ride in from the airport if your mobile phone has not yet synced with the local network.

Bucharest Palace of Parliament night

We’re your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

When we first heard about driving the Loneliest Road in America—otherwise known as U.S. Highway 50—that crosses the barren hinterlands of central Nevada, we were intrigued. In a 1986 article for Life Magazine, the American Automobile Association had this to day about it:

“There are no points of interest. We don’t recommend it. We warn all motorists not to drive there unless they’re confident of their survival skills.”

Yikes! They make the road sound like something from a Hank Williams song. Well, once we heard that, we just had to see for ourselves if their description was true . . . or perhaps prove it wrong.

Nevada state tourism has embraced the once-derogatory moniker of "The Loneliest Road" with special road signs

Historic road through mountain passes

Decades before the Interstate Highway System was built,  two-lane U.S. 50 was the primary route across Nevada, linking its Utah and California borders. It’s also an historic road: it was once part of the Lincoln Highway—America’s first transcontinental route—that was proposed in 1913 to connect New York and San Francisco. Fifty years earlier the Pony Express also crisscrossed this path.

Crossing from Utah into Nevada on US Route 50 at a desolate gas station.

We started out at the Utah/Nevada border, at what may well be the “Loneliest Gas Station in America,” and, like all good pioneers, headed west. We were tracing the path of the early settlers who passed in Conestoga wagons without the benefit of power steering, GPS or extra horsepower under the hood. Tumbleweeds and the remnants of scattered vegetation provided some color as we set off into the Great Basin Desert.

Unexpectedly we started climbing over a 7,000-foot elevation mountain pass in what became a pattern on this roller coaster drive. Stone markers indicating a portion of the historic Lincoln Highway that shares the Loneliest Road in Nevada were installed by the Boy Scouts in 1928 to aid motorists and commemorate America's first transcontinental route.Upon reaching the peak the straight, two-lane road swooped down into a vast prairie before disappearing into the next mountain range 30 miles down the road. In total the drive undulates through seven high desert valleys, providing an array of earth tones and sage greens that form a soft contrast to the vivid blue Nevada sky dotted with stark white cumulus clouds.

The Lincoln Highway joins Highway 50 in the former railroad hub of Ely, 65 miles west of the Utah state line. You can still see remnants of that historic route in the form of concrete signposts marked with an “L”; the Boy Scouts of America placed them there in 1928 to guide motorists while commemorating the road’s namesake, Abraham Lincoln. However, with the vast desert stretching to the horizon on either side of the road, it would take one very confused driver to get lost here.

Old trains, vintage opera houses and mid-century neon

Ely hosts one of the biggest attractions along Highway 50: the Nevada Northern Railroad Museum. The 56-acre historic train yard and depot have been restored to how they looked in 1907, when local copper mines filled the burgeoning need for telephone and electrical lines in America. Visitors can even ride on a train powered by a circa 1910 Baldwin steam locomotive that was built in Philadelphia.

Two "campers" who spend their vacation tinkering with trains at the Nevada Railroad Museum in Ely, Nevada along the state's Loneliest Road

An elderly gentleman clad in striped denim overalls, sporting a glorious white beard and hoisting a giant monkey wrench mentioned he was one of the campers at the museum. Somewhat confused, we found out the museum offers its own version of a “fantasy camp”: a weeklong session where adult train geeks can tinker on actual equipment.

The Hotel Nevada, along Nevada's Loneliest Road in the town of Ely, remains little changed from 70 years ago.

77 miles farther west, the silver-and-lead mining town of Eureka bills itself as the “Friendliest Town on the Loneliest Road.” In the 1880s, when the smelters were cranking out at full speed, it was named “The Pittsburgh of the West.” With an ornate circa 1879 opera house and museum in the former offices of one of Nevada’s oldest newspapers, The Eureka Sentinel, which was founded in 1870 during the mining boom, Eureka could easily serve as a Western movie set.

The Victorian-era buildings that line the main street of Eureka, Nevada are a well-preserved testament to the once-bustling commerce along the Loneliest Road

Ghost towns and ancient stones

Lovers of ghost towns—and all things abandoned—will love this drive. All along the Loneliest Road, just over the hill to the north or south intrepid souls will find the vestiges of life once lived with gusto. Two miles outside of Eureka, the former mining hamlet of Ruby Hill lies abandoned to the elements. Some of the corrugated tin-roofed buildings scattered along a small gully still house the furniture of prior residents–a sobering reminder of why these are called ghost towns. Among the silvery juniper bushes and piñon trees, cactus flowers blooming in bright fuchsia provide vivid splashes of color.

The abandoned ghost town of Ruby Hill lies just off the Loneliest Road outside of Eureka, Nevada

Midway across the state, Route 50 shakes hands a few times with the path of the old Pony Express. A handful of crumbling stations are still hunched over by the roadside. This area is desolate even now, imagine the plight of the lonely mail rider galloping through during the service’s brief life?

On the eastern outskirts of Fallon, the desert yields an archaeological surprise close to the road. At Grimes Point, a quarter-mile walking trail reveals rust-colored basalt boulders marked by geometric petroglyphs of circles and wavy lines, some of which were struck almost 3,000 years ago by indigenous peoples. Even more remarkable considering the parched desert environs, going back 12 millennia this spot was 400 feet below the surface of a lake.

Petroglyphs from 3,000 years ago offer an intriguing diversion at Grimes Point, along Nevada's Loneliest Road

F-18s and freedom ringing

The town of Fallon is perched at the western terminus of the “lonely” portion of highway that Life magazine referred to in 1986. Known as the oasis of Nevada (which admittedly isn’t saying much), Fallon boasts a rare patch of green in the state and is famous for its luscious cantaloupes and as the home of Fallon Naval Air Station, where the pilots made famous in the movie Top Gun now train; it’s not unusual to see (or rather hear) a pair of F-18 Hornets roaring overhead.

Sand Mountain, a 600-foot tall sand dune, sits alongside the Loneliest Road, just east of Fallon, Nevada.

Nearing the California state line, motorists will note an incongruous sight in the capital of Carson City. In front of the Nevada State Museum there’s a full-sized replica of the Liberty Bell. In 1950 one was given to each state as part of a U.S. Savings Bond drive. But why does the bell look so much different than the original that is displayed in Philadelphia? This one lacks the famous crack.

A replica of the Liberty Bell--from a 1950s US Savings Bond drive, occupies pried of place in Carson City, Nevada along the Loneliest Road

At this point, we were ready to let freedom ring ourselves. We had driven the length of The Loneliest Road and lived to tell the tale. Though there were indeed some desolate stretches, there’s a particular beauty in the landscape along with haunting sights of a bygone era. It’s well worth the journey.

Pick up a "passport" to chart your progress along Nevada's Loneliest RoadNote: Rather than grouse at the slur on their character, the towns that form the bone-dry vertebrae along the spine of the Loneliest Road chose to make the best of it. They created a passport-like “Official Highway 50 Survival Guide” that highlights points of interest on the route. Intrepid travelers who have it stamped at stations along the way qualify for an “I Survived Highway 50” certificate and souvenir upon completion. Now what could be better than that?

Like it? Share it . . .Pin it!US Route 50 across Nevada--the so-called "Loneliest Road in America"--offers a glimpse into the past, along with stunning scenery

We’re global nomads who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

After spending a few weeks on the Indonesian island of Bali, we were excited to explore nearby Java and the bustling city of Yogyakarta. Anyone who likes coffee knows the term “java,” the nickname of which is derived from early coffee plantations on the tropical island that provided large amounts of coffee for export.

Java is also the political and cultural center of the archipelago nation of Indonesia. Some of the most popular sights for visitors are the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. Yogyakarta (or “Yogya” to locals) is situated right between them, making the city a convenient base for exploring these early examples of Hindu and Buddhist culture. A good choice for lodging in the city is the Novotel Yogakarta which you can find on Traveloka.

Prambanan temple near Yogyakarta

Start your journey at the Prambanan temples (shown above). It’s located only 10 miles northeast of the center of Yogyakarta. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, that originally consisted of over 200 structures, is easily reached by the 1A bus from downtown. Many compare the experience to visiting the famous temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, but with less crowds.

Prambanan is simply wonderful, with structures dating from the 9th century AD. For centuries they were lost to the jungle until being rediscovered over 200 years ago. Since the temple complex is so huge, you might want to spread your visit over several days, interspersing days at the temple with sightseeing in Yogyakarta. In fact, for a sight this large and complex, it’s worth your time to focus on just a few temples each day and really explore them in detail. The decorative stonework friezes alone can take hours to seek out every nook and cranny.

borobudur temple complex,

The next temple complex that visitors to Yogyakarta must see is Borobudur, a Buddhist temple from the 8th and 9th centuries. It is surrounded by 72 stone stupas that each contain their own statue of Buddha, truly an incredible artistic feat and sign of devotion by the artisans who create them. The photo at the top of this post also shows Borobudur, with an exposed statue of Buddha out front.

The temples of central Java are truly awe-inspiring. During the 8th and 9th centuries, Europe was in the Dark Ages while the Americas had yet to be “discovered” by those same Europeans. Yet here, on a remote island, some of the greatest achievements of mankind were being created. The fact that centuries later they are still standing is a testament not only to their survival skills and durability, but to the advanced civilization that created them.

The temple complexes of Borobudur and Prambanan have earned their UNESCO World Heritage status for a reason and are a worthwhile destination for a cultural journey.

Back in Yogyakarta there are also several sights worth exploring between visits to the temples. Since I tend to drag Larissa to military history sights, one popular attraction is the Yogyakarta Fortress Museum; it was built by the former Dutch colonizers of Indonesia in the 18th century. Nowadays, in a bit of turnabout, it houses the Independence Struggle Museum, highlighting Indonesia’s fight for freedom. It tells a history of this nation that is often overlooked by visitors.

Lake Como in northern Italy is one of the most gorgeous places in the world; which helps explain why celebrities like actor George Clooney live in villas overlooking its aquamarine waters with the Alps forming a snow-capped backdrop. The lake itself is shaped like an upside-down “Y” with its namesake town of Como located at its southwestern tip.

Como mountains in distance
Como, with its dazzling waterfront and medieval buildings, provides a convenient year-round base for tourism in this enchanting corner of Italy. Its location at the base of Mount Brunate provides an excellent jumping off point for touring other sights along Lake Como’s coast.
Como Italy

Como is located only 30 miles from Milan, making it an accessible destination for visitors. Due to low airfares on Emirates, we’ve used Milan as a gateway city to Europe lately, so a visit to Lake Como is an easy trip from destinations all over the world. Como boasts a restored medieval section that provides charm, shopping and restaurants.

Como piazza

An interesting spot in Como for science lovers is the Tempio Voltiano, a museum devoted to local boy made good Alessandro Volta. If that last name sounds familiar, it’s because the electrical scientist was an early pioneer with batteries and gave us the terms “volts” and “voltage” to  measure electrical power.

38799796 - the volta temple in como town, italy,

One of the best choices for lodging in Como is the Park Hotel Meublè. The 3-star hotel is conveniently located only 200 meters from Lake Como. While you’re staying there, the hotel can arrange a unique tour of Lake Como–viewing  it from above via a seaplane excursion. Maybe you’ll even wave to Mr. Clooney out on his veranda.
Park Hotel Meuble Como Italy
Any way you experience it, Lake Como is a spectacular destination for visitors. We may be a bit biased here, but since it’s also in Italy, the Lake Como region offers some of the best food in the world making it an ideal place for a holiday.

It was the summer of 1969 and, as Old Faithful was about to send its regular timed flume of scalding hot water about 140 feet into the air for a spectacular sunset performance, the crowds gathered in hushed anticipation. The geyser had been doing so like clockwork for eons and was one of the main attractions of Yellowstone National Park.

Old Faithful geyser scheduleMeanwhile, a nine-year-old Mike Milne (your humble storyteller) had somehow locked himself into the bathroom of the room he was sharing with his family at the Old Faithful Inn; mere steps from the geyser. They were on the trip of a lifetime and this was the moment they had been waiting for, save for a recalcitrant key that had somehow become jammed in the lock. As his older brother wailed from outside—“C’mon, we’re gonna miss it!”—the pudgy young lad (who also wore glasses, he was quite a dreamboat back then) struggled with the key, but to no avail. He didn’t get to witness Old Faithful on that fateful day and, like General Douglas MacArthur, vowed to someday return.

Decades later Yellowstone has become one of the most popular destinations in America as streaming caravans of tourists make their way to the rugged sight: Yellowstone is the fourth most visited national park, with over 4 million visitors per year. During Michael’s first visit in 1969 the park was popular, but nothing like this. Low cost airfare and a more mobile society have created massive crowds during the summer. As the National Park Service celebrates its centennial this year, Yellowstone is even more in the news. But Yellowstone is magical—and relatively empty—in the fall, a season that’s perfect for snuggling up to a warm fire in the lodge and donning the first cozy sweater of the season.

Chromatic pool visiting Yellowstone in the fall

The park itself is aflame with the blazing leaves of quaking aspen, bigleaf maple, and cottonwood trees turning a brilliant yellow, and seems to operate on a slower pace. Deprived of the manic energy of all the summer visitors, it follows the lead of its grizzly bears and starts settling down for a long winter’s slumber.

Yellowstone Park waterfall

We visited in early October, just a week before most of the park closed for the year. This off-season period is the perfect time to enjoy the sights that make Yellowstone justly famous, without struggling for elbow-room while you do so. It’s worth noting that many of the park’s lodging options have also closed for the season by this point, so unless you reserve months ahead at one of the few lodges still open, you’ll have to stay outside the park. Fortunately, there are several routes to take into Yellowstone, with the towns nearby each offering their own flavor of Western life and good food and lodging options.

Buffalo Bill Museum of the West

Fifty miles from Yellowstone’s East Entrance, Cody, Wyoming transports visitors back to cowboy times. The town, founded by “Buffalo Bill” Cody, offers the spectacular Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a collection of five national-caliber museums under one roof. A member of the Smithsonian Affiliations program, it’s hard to imagine a better place to round out your Western education. Whether your interests are natural history, firearms, the local indigenous people, Western art or Buffalo Bill himself, you’ll find something to get you in the cowboy spirit.

Yellowstone park in fall buffalo

Note: This photo was taken with a zoom lens. Do not get close to the wildlife!

A day driving through the northern regions of the park took us past stunning vistas for which the park is justifiably famous. With virtually no one else on the road, we were able to explore at leisure. Occasionally, we’d spot a few cars pulled over by the side of the road, a familiar signal that there was wildlife in the vicinity to view. The bison proved particularly photogenic, especially when they chose to stop in the middle of the road and not budge for several minutes. We hadn’t seen any elk . . . until dusk.

45th parallel sign Yellowstone Park

A few hundred of them (yes, hundred) crossed our path, as we were leaving the park just after sunset. We bunked in for the night in the tiny hamlet of Gardiner, Montana, which sits just across the state line at the park’s Northern Entrance. Gardiner gives visitors a glimpse of life in days gone by, with only a few buildings and small motels lining the streets, many of which are unpaved. Later that night, that same herd of elk paid us a visit, moseying down the streets of Gardiner as if looking for their own room for the night.

Jackson wyoming antlers in park

From the southern approach, the town of Jackson offers the most sophisticated taste of the West near Yellowstone National Park. The village is located in the valley of Jackson Hole about 60 miles south of the park’s South Entrance, a drive that passes through Grand Teton National Park, with its breathtaking views of those rugged peaks.

Moose walking in jackson Wyoming

Jackson attracts high-end visitors who seek comfort mingled with a dose of ruggedness in their travels, which might explain the moose calf ambling along the side of the road as we drove into town. Our room at Spring Creek Ranch, perched high above the valley with the Grand Tetons in the distance, made Michael observe that the town had come a long way since his first visit, when the airport gates were literally two wooden gates, like you’d find in someone’s backyard.

Spring Creek Ranch Jackson Wyoming

The view from Spring Creek Ranch.

Meanwhile, back at Yellowstone we made our way to Old Faithful, located mere steps from the Old Faithful Inn with the balky bathroom door. (In Michael’s youthful memory it was over a mile, but whatever.) The geyser is showing its age a bit and is not quite as “faithful” as it used to be, emitting its scalding steam within a small range of times now. The crowds awaiting the sunset display were speaking in hushed tones, as if they too had succumbed to the languid rhythm of the final week of the season at Yellowstone. A small burst of steam shot into the sky, followed by the full force of the geyser. The setting sun turned the watery display into crystals jetting across the sky. It was magical, and more than made up for the 45-year wait.

Larissa Michael Milne Old faithful geyser

Ok, so Larissa’s head looks like it’s steaming in this one.

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28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

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During a nighttime stroll, we had become lost in the dimly lit, maze-like streets of old Saigon. A series of turns led us into a narrow alley whose sole purpose seemed to be connecting to other alleys. The winding streets felt as though laid out by a two-year-old chasing a kitten.

Locals, cooking their dinner on sidewalk grills, looked at us with amusement, while children stopped their games for a moment to point at us and giggle; obviously, we were well off the tourist path. One elderly man, sporting a wispy Ho Chi Minh beard, waved us away from one alley and pointed to another. We followed his advice, but ended up at a brick wall. Now what?

From an open-air building off to the side, a slight woman in her twenties, head shaved clean and clad in a plain gray robe, approached us and calmly said, “Come in.” Because we had no idea where we were, and only a vague idea of how to get back, we took her up on the offer.

Chaum Lam Pagoda altar (575x477)

Somehow, we had stumbled into the Châu Lâm Pagoda, a Buddhist convent, on the busiest day of the year – the Tet holiday. Sister Huê Chi led us inside to meet the Master of the convent, an elderly woman whose commanding presence belied her short stature. In the background, a nun struck a gong at regular intervals as the others chanted prayers to Buddha. Fragrant sandalwood incense from burning joss sticks wafted over us.

The Master led us by the hand to a table, where other nuns scurried to present us with traditional Tet dishes of sticky rice and bright orange mangoes. After finishing our impromptu dinner, we were led into the sanctuary.

saigon tet buddhist temple hands

Saffron-robed nuns bowed in rows behind small silver tables bearing prayer books. Their hands remained clasped together and their heads lowered as they shot curious sideways glances at us; the only Westerners there. Whenever we made eye contact we were met with a soothing smile. A few minutes later, we joined them in kneeling in front of a yellow-and-red altar dedicated to Buddha.

saigon ho chi minh city tet holiday

This magical event hadn’t been planned; in fact, we had gotten quite disoriented that evening. Though instead of pulling out a map or checking our GPS position on a cell phone, we decided to roll with it. It’s fun to plan your vacation ahead of time, but we find it’s best to just have a broad outline of what you want to see or do. Leave time for those serendipitous events that pop up out of nowhere and are impossible to schedule. Sometimes, to find the most interesting things, you just have to get lost.

We’re your average middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

The expression that there are two sides to every story is never truer than at the Battle of Little Bighorn, the site of Custer’s famous Last Stand. Even the site has had two names; it was originally named after the vanquished George Armstrong Custer. In 1991, recognizing modern sensibilities, President George H. W. Bush signed into law the name change to its current one: Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Custer’s rash decisions that day cost the lives of all 209 men (including two of his brothers and a nephew) under his immediate command. It didn’t really make sense for him to be honored for his actions.

I’m surprised that such an overwhelming defeat hadn’t happened to Custer sooner. He had been a risk taking soldier earlier in his career in both the Civil War and the Indian Wars. His prior actions in battle led to a few close calls. His continued success despite long odds led to a sense of hubris and destiny on his part.

He also had political aspirations and hoped that further success on the battlefield would be a springboard to a successful candidacy. In typical audacious Custer fashion, he had designs on being president someday. His father was almost a century ahead of Joe Kennedy in pushing for one of his boys to occupy the White House.

Battle of Little Bighorn

Last Stand Hill

I spent two days touring the battlefield. Dominating the area is Last Stand Hill. The headstones of Custer’s men are scattered about like a boxer’s broken teeth and enclosed by a Victorian wrought iron fence. The rest of the battlefield looks much as it would have looked on June 25th, 1876; basically a vast windswept prairie. However the devil is in the details. The tours give you the opportunity to listen to the story of the battle from the vantage point of both the winners and the losers.

On the first day I attended a talk by a Park Ranger about the battle. He gave such a vivid presentation that with the presence of a few war whoops and rifle shots you would have thought you were there during the fight. He spoke of how the Indians had been repeatedly pushed off their lands as American expansion led increasingly further west. How they had finally settled in the Black Hills area of eastern Wyoming. Here they were granted a permanent reservation by the government in 1868.

Unfortunately for the natives, gold was discovered in the Black Hills in 1874. This was all fine and dandy except that the location of the gold strike was also in the middle of the newly formed reservation. Initially the army tried to keep out the hordes of gold fevered settlers but it was just too much. The Indians left their reservation and started raiding the interlopers. In 1876 the Indian Wars resumed in full.

I was at Little Bighorn at the start of the annual motorcycle rally in nearby Sturgis, South Dakota so there were many bikers at the ranger talk. Hearing this tale of constant betrayal by the American government, one biker turned to another and said, “You can only kick a dog so many times before it jumps up and bites you.”

Not to compare the Indians to dogs of course, but to point out the obvious. You bully someone enough and they come back to bite. The evidence of those teeth marks lies all around the battlefield in the form of stone monuments to fallen soldiers.

The next day I returned for a different tour. Native American guides who are students at nearby Little Big Horn College take visitors on a one hour tour of the battlefield. After boarding the van our guide Brian said, “There are many versions of what happened here that day. Today you are going to hear my version.” As the van drove slowly through the battlefield Brian used an arrow (minus the sharp tip) to point out various sites along the way.

This tour was told more from the Indian’s point-of-view. Brian recounted from the oral legend of Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho veterans of the battle. Things I learned the day before from the Park Ranger were placed in a different context.

Custer headstone Little BighornThe Park Ranger recounted how the bodies of Custer and his men were mutilated, Custer having an arrow shoved into his private parts. From my readings I knew that this was a delicate way of saying that he had an arrow thrust into his penis.

He also had two knitting needles pushed into his ears. Legend has it that this was done by Indian women because Custer had refused to listen. Pretty gruesome stuff. Without any background it further paints the warriors as savages; lending further credence to the belief that they were a foe who deserved their eventual fate at the hands of the US government.

During the tour the next day Brian addressed this issue and pointed out why the soldiers had been mutilated. The Indians believed that the afterlife would be pretty similar to one’s life on earth. Therefore they needed their body to continue their same lifestyle. They cut off the soldier’s trigger fingers so they would not be able to fire a gun and hunt in the afterlife. The mutilation of his penis was so Custer would be even further hobbled and not be able to create offspring. Okay, it’s still gruesome but at least now I understand it in context.

As famous as the legend of the battle has become to American school children, the main part of it was over in about 45 minutes. Even when it ended, the rest of the American army that was dug in on a nearby hill didn’t know of Custer’s fate until the next day, after the smoke had cleared.

As heartbreaking as the sight of Last Stand Hill is, even more so is the trail leading down to the Deep Ravine. Here 28 soldiers of Company E broke away from the group on the hill. A Lakota Sioux named Respects Nothing stated “The soldiers at Custer Hill were all killed before those down along the ravine.”

The soldiers made a mad dash for the perceived safety of a ravine by the Little Bighorn River. It was a desperate move made by desperate men. At this point in the battle their fate was already sealed.

Another Indian veteran stated that it was like a buffalo hunt as the soldiers frantically ran down the hill, only to be cut down by the Indians circling them on horseback. There was to be no escaping the ferocious onslaught. I think they probably knew that but gave one last valiant effort to save their lives.

Little Bighorn Deep ravine trail

Looking up at Last Stand Hill from Deep Ravine Trail

Little Bighorn is one of the few battlefield sites in the world where the headstones are placed where the soldiers bodies were found, not lined up in neat rows. At the top of Last Stand Hill the soldiers’ headstones are clustered relatively close together. On the Deep Ravine Trail there was no such modest comfort of dying among your comrades in arms. On the trail the headstones are scattered in ones and twos along a half mile stretch; a literal monument to the killing frenzy leading to the deaths of the soldiers of Company E.

Even when touring such bloody battlefields as Normandy, Verdun and Gettysburg, where men died by the thousands, I haven’t been as touched as I was while walking along the Deep Ravine Trail. As I reached the bottom of the trail I saw a grown man in tears as he looked out over the ravine. I was starting to puddle up myself. He gave me a knowing nod and moved on.

While the tribes won the battle, they realized that in the long run they would lose the war.  A year later one of the battle’s heroes, Crazy Horse, was dead; the night he turned himself in to military custody he was killed by an army guard.

London is a fascinating city filled with history. From its official naming in the Roman era to its bustling streets today, the city has always been important to England..

We’ve already written about free things to do in London, and are now revealing many unusual attractions and historical sites that you can visit there. (Many of which are also free.) These are hidden sights in London, the ones that many visitors, and even locals, never see. Here are seven interesting and sometimes bizarre things that you can find in the capital that you won’t want to miss.

Hidden sights in London

The Eisenhower Centre

During World War II, several protective deep level air shelters were built. With kitchen and medical facilities, they were able to hold 8,000 people. The reason that this particular shelter on Chenies Street in Bloomsbury (near the Goodge Street Station) is so famous is because it also doubled as a signals and command facility for General Eisenhower’s during the war. It’s now leased as storage space, but the exterior is a must-visit for military history buffs.

Click here for info, tours and tickets to more World War II sights.

Burlington Arcade Beadles

Burlington Arcade beadles

Burlington Arcade can be found just off Piccadilly and has had its own legal jurisdiction since 1818. It’s like walking into a slice of Edwardian England, with Beadles walking around instead of security guards. If you run, whistle, hum, open an umbrella or do anything that might show a jovial nature, these guards in Edwardian dress will politely ask you to leave. It’s all part of the fun in this odd corner of London.

Ferryman’s Seat

On the South Side of the Thames, near to the Globe is an inconspicuous stone chair that is carved into a wall. This is what could be described as a Middle Ages taxi service where people would wait for the waterman so that they could get a ride through the city and to the other side of the river. A quirky scene, it’s a good site to visit.

Sewer Lamp

We’ve toured the sewers of Paris, but didn’t realize London had an “effluential” attraction too. Just off The Strand stands the Sewer Lamp. It’s long been rumored that the lamp runs on methane produced by the guests at the Savoy Hotel next door. There were actually lamps like these in England to help remove the methane from sewers, but sadly the original lamp was destroyed in a traffic accident. While this one is a replica, it is still an interesting and little known London fact.

York Watergate

Hidden sights in London York Watergate

Before the Victorian Embankment in the 1800s, the houses on the Strand had pride of place with beautiful gardens that fronted the Thames. The home of the first Duke of Buckingham, York House, was one of these and was built in 1237. The gate is all that remains after the house was razed during the 1600s. Here’s more about the tangled history of York Watergate.

Kensington Roof Gardens

The roof garden sits atop the former Derry & Toms department store above busy Kensington high street and consists of 1.5 acres of absolute beauty. With rose bushes and fruit trees sprawling across the grounds, it is also home to wandering flamingos and a stream filled with dazzling fish. It truly is like stepping through a portal to a completely different world.

Skeleton of Jeremy Bentham

In the south cloister of University College London, you can see the remains of the renowned philosopher and reformer Jeremy Bentham. A respected man, he requested that his body be mummified and displayed after his death, which it was. Unfortunately, it’s decayed so only his bones remain. The head is made from wax but actually contains his skull. If you’re into that sort of thing.

Hopefully you will pay these hidden sights in London a visit. With so many attractions hidden from the public eye and missed out in guidebooks, London offers much for the curious visitor to explore.

Interested in exploring some of these and other unique sights in more detail? Check out this great list of London Walking Tours from Viator!

Like it? Share it . . .Pin it!Quirky sights in London|Unusual sights in London

We’re global nomads who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011 seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive monthly updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

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When we think of places for the best pizza in the world our thoughts normally drift to New York or Italy. But the town of Old Forge, Pennsylvania claims that it is the “Pizza Capital of the World.” Those are pretty big words for such a small town. We just had to check this out so here is our review of Old Forge pizza.

Old Forge is in northeast Pennsylvania (known to locals as NEPA), only five miles from Scranton of the TV show The Office fame. With a population of only around 8,000 supporting 14 pizzerias, it may well be the “Pizza per Capita” capital of the world, but “Pizza Capital?” So off to Old Forge we went to see, and taste, for ourselves.

Old Forge Pennsylvania NEPA pizza capital of the world sign

Review of Old Forge pizza

Old Forge-style pizza is baked in rectangular metal trays. It’s distinguished by the blend of cheeses, they vary at each establishment, that can be a combination of mozzarella, parmesan, romano, American and … what? Did they just say American? This we had to check out. So follow along as we push ourselves to taste Old Forge pizza at four places in one day.

Arcaro & Genell Restaurant

Arcaro and Genell Old Forge style pizza

We started our pilgrimage at Arcaro & Genell. Settled into puffy vinyl booths, with Frank Sinatra playing on the radio, we felt like we had appeared in the 1950s-era restaurant from the movie Big Night. Since we were newbies, the cheerful Amanda was our guide to the ways of Old Forge-style pizza.

A whole pizza is not called a pie but a tray, and individual slices are called cuts. It comes in traditional red and a white. The white pizza at most places is actually a double crust pizza made by folding the dough over the topping. Are you with me so far?

Arcaro and Genell pizza Old Forge NEPA

We selected the classic red pizza with original crust (not the thinner variation) and a single crust white topped with fresh tomato, garlic and onion. Arcaro’s proudly proclaims that they were selected as a Top 10 pizza in America. The rating was done by USA TODAY back in 1983 but it’s still pretty impressive.

The sauce on the red tray had the classic Old Forge taste, a bit oniony and a bit sweet. The pans are brushed with olive oil, making the crust crispy on the bottom rising to a chewiness directly beneath the sauce. The cheese was a blend that we guessed was Mozzarella, American and Cheddar; but Amanda would not reveal state secrets.

Arcaro and Genell pizza crust NEPA pizza Old Forge

The single-crust white was garnished with fresh tomatoes, raw onions, and a pesto type blend of minced garlic and dried basil. Both pizzas met with our immediate approval. The cheese blend is not traditional, but seemed to work.

Revello’s Pizza

Revellos Old Forge Pizza NEPA

Thinking of the day ahead, we tried not to fill up and walked across the street to Revello’s. You know you’re in Northeast Pennsylvania when the pizzerias also offer pierogies, a staple in these Polish and Italian former mining towns.

Revellos old forge pizza red and white NEPA

Revello’s was once a mainstay of Old Forge pizza, but we were disappointed. The crust tasted like a toasted version of Wonder Bread and the cheese seemed to be 100% American. It reminded us of snacks we made in the toaster oven as teenagers.

Mary Lou’s Pizza

Mary Lous Old Forge Pizza

We moved on to Mary Lou’s, tucked into a residential in a nondescript tan stucco building a few blocks off Main Street. As soon as we got out of the car and breathed in the garlic-scented aromas, we knew we were onto something. Mary Lou, a sweet grandmother of eight, ably assisted by grandson Joe, was certainly the cutest of the bakers we met.

Mary Lous Old Forge NEPA pizza

Her pizza education started early in life when her mother taught her the family recipes. A steady stream of customers picking up pre-ordered trays was a testament to her pizza’s popularity. The crispy crust is lighter than the others; the sauce, the best of the day, a perfect blend of onions and sweet tomato.

Elio G’s Old Forge Pizza

We were pretty full at this point, but as we were driving out of town we made one last stop at Elio G’s to watch Elio and Tom work through the dinner rush. For Old Forge pizza historians, Elio’s is a must-see destination. Elio mentioned that his grandmother, Nonni Ghigiarelli, invented Old Forge-style pizza in 1926. She made it for card players at the bar that she and her husband owned. It was an instant hit.

Elios Old Forge pizza NEPA copy

Elio is as crusty as his pizza which makes for an entertaining wait. He uses only the best ingredients including the sweetest of onions. Cheese blends are heavily guarded but it seems that Elio uses only mozzarella and sharp provolone. The chunky tomato sauce was heavily laden with black pepper

Elios Old Forge pizza

Elios white pizza is a blend of cheese and freshly cooked spinach topped with an intense blend of herbs; we tasted black pepper, rosemary, salt and maybe oregano. The herbs sprinkled on top made it taste like stuffed focaccia. Speaking of stuffed, we were pretty stuffed ourselves at this point and had to call it a day.

In Old Forge, pizza is a comfort food to celebrate both life and to mark its passing. At Elio G’s, a woman who looked remarkably like Paula Deen, stopped in to pick up five trays for a surprise 40th birthday party for her daughter.

At Mary Lou’s, a doctor who grew up in the area, was back in town to visit his father in hospice care nearby. The entire family was gathered in support of his father whose death was imminent. He said, “I was raised on that pizza It feels like home to me.”

At times like these, those who grew up in Old Forge gather around a tray of their wonderfully idiosyncratic pizza to provide support for each other. I recommend visiting Old Forge to witness a true slice, no, make that cut, of Americana.

You might be interested in our pizza tasting on six continents to find the best pizza in the world.

Here are even more reviews of Old Forge pizza on Yelp.

28581550060_131210d7e7_mLarissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.

Update June, 2017: Since our visit to North Korea in 2011, the recent death of American tourist Otto Warmbier, who was detained while visiting the country, is a tragic situation that is inexcusable. Accordingly, despite our feelings that tourism in North Korea has positive benefits by exposing the North Korean people to visitors from the outside world, we can no longer recommend that Americans visit the country. It is too easy for the DPRK to make them pawns for continuing tensions between the two countries.

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Visiting the DMZ on the North Korean side is not everyone’s idea of a vacation. The Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Korea has been called “the most dangerous place on Earth.”  On either side of the border sits the largest concentration of soldiers and weapons on the planet. Vice President Mike Pence recently visited the DMZ to look out over North Korea. Here’s what it’s like actually being on the other side in the heart of North Korea.

We left our Pyongyang hotel early for the 120 kilometer drive on the Reunification Highway to the DMZ.  As we neared the border the bus passed through a series of checkpoints that were a few miles apart. These weren’t that intimidating, just a guard shack by the side of the road with a swinging gate out front.

visiting the DMZ on the North Korean side

Except for a major roadblock at the DMZ, the Reunification Highway leads directly from Pyongyang to Seoul. Typical of North Korea, traffic is generally not a problem.

But as we approached each checkpoint the mood on the bus got a bit tense. It was one thing to be in North Korea, it was quite another to be scrutinized by army personnel, particularly when carrying an American passport.

visiting the DMZ on the North Korean side

Military briefing by North Korean soldier at the DMZ.

After the final checkpoint the bus pulled up to a large concrete wall where we disembarked. We were led into a building that contained a gift shop, at the DMZ of all places, offering a wide range of ginseng products and books by the Great Leader, Kim Il Sung. We soon learned that ginseng was available for purchase wherever we stopped in the DPRK.

Portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are everywhere in North Korea

We were led into a room that contained a ten-foot high overview map of the area. A North Korean soldier, wooden pointer in hand, proceeded to provide a military briefing on the DMZ.  Like all rooms in North Korea, it had pictures of the Great Leader, Kim Il Sung, and the Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il, beaming down on the proceedings. After the brief pep talk we proceeded to the actual border which was delineated by a concrete curb that even a child could just step over. A series of small buildings the size of mobile homes straddles the border.

Looking at the DMZ from the North Korean side

We noticed that there was also a tour group lined up on the South Korean side.  So while the North and South Korean soldiers stared off against each other to see who would blink first, we had our own stare down with the tourists, likely from the same countries as us, on the other side.

We were permitted to enter one of the small buildings that straddle the border which is used as a conference room when there are disputes between the two Koreas. Through the small windows of the building we could see the South Korean guards about twenty feet away standing in battle ready positions, their arms hanging tensely at their sides with their fists firmly clenched.

Korea DMZ

North and South Korean soldiers are only yards apart at the border, represented by the small concrete curb next to the two North Korean soldiers. Photo courtesy Russell Ng.

As we ambled around the room we walked in and out of both Koreas so technically we were in South Korea at one point. On the bus ride back that was a matter of some discussion among our group as to whether we get credit for going to South Korea based on our brief foray.

After we arrived back in Pyongyang there was a sense of relief that we had survived our visit to the most dangerous place on Earth. Then reality set in and we realized we were still in Pyongyang, the capital city of the most isolated nation in the world.

With the recent death of Kim Jong Il, travel arrangements to North Korea are uncertain. The isolated country does not allow independent travel and all groups are escorted by two minders. But if you are interested in visiting the DMZ on the North Korean side. We traveled with with Koryo Tours. The British-run company has been leading tours to North Korea since 1993.

Click the link for more stories about our visit to North Korea.

Link to United States government information for visiting North Korea. (Spoiler alert: They highly recommend not going.)

Update June, 2017: Since our visit to North Korea in 2011, the recent death of American tourist Otto Warmbier, who was detained while visiting the country, is a tragic situation that is inexcusable. Accordingly, despite our feelings that tourism in North Korea has positive benefits by exposing the North Korean people to visitors from the outside world, we can no longer recommend that Americans visit the country. It is too easy for the DPRK to make them pawns for continuing tensions between the two countries.

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Despite the fact that ancient history in North Korea goes back more than 4,000 years, the country’s rich culture is often masked by current events. It seems that we can’t go more than a few weeks without news of saber rattling from the current regime about missiles, nukes or some other threat.

During our visit to North Korea, we were mostly shown sights related to the iconography of the modern era: monuments and museums propping up the cult of personality related to the dynasty started by Kim Il Sung, passed on to his son Kim Jong Il, and now perpetuated by Kim Jong Un. But that leadership has been in place for only 75 years, the blink of an eye in the Korean peninsula’s long history. 

A recent monument to Kim Il Sung--definitely NOT part of the ancient history of North KoreaStone soldiers guarding a 100-year old tomb-part of the ancient history in North KoreaMonuments from two very different dynasties in Korea’s history. 

The day was hot and sticky as we trudged up the steep hill on Tongil Street to gaze upon yet another massive, gilded statue of the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung. We were in the industrial city of Kaesong, fresh off a visit to the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas, which is only three miles south. The city is laid out in typical DPRK fashion with wide boulevards leading to the city’s high point where we found the gold monument to the nation’s founder. But the Korean peninsula also holds fascinating treasures hearkening back to a different time.

From 918 to 1392, Kaesong was the capital of Korea (which of course was united back then) and the home of the Koryo Dynasty, the source of the name Korea. We left modern-day Kaesong in a bus to visit a rural area that held royal tombs from that era. Along the way we passed verdant rice paddies with farmers harvesting their crops while soldiers on patrol, a common sight near the DMZ, strode nearby.

Hyonjongrung royal tombs from the 14th century. A bit of ancient history in North Korea

After the bus climbed a narrow hillside path, we approached the Hyonjongrung royal tombs, the 14th-century burial site for King Kongmin and Queen Noguk.  The tombs are typical of burial architecture of the era, two large grass-covered mounds set atop the hill with a commanding view over the valley below.

We hiked up several flights of steps to the tombs, passing stone statues of men wearing robes and traditional hats. They are the king’s advisors, placed there to provide eternal guidance to the deceased royals. Seven-ton stone slabs mark the entranceway to each tomb. Gray stone statues of tigers and lambs, representing strength and compassion, guard the tombs in perpetuity.

A soldier guards Hyonjongrung royal tombs-a rare bit of ancient history in North KoreaGuarding the Hyonjongrung royal tombs-a rare bit of ancient history in North KoreaOur guide, Mrs. Lee, was proud of her country’s long history, but in a country like North Korea, current events usually cast a long shadow over the past. “These tombs represent a time when Korea was one country. But as you can see, it is now divided. One wonders whose fault that is?” Mrs. Lee intoned, giving the official government line that the United States and its South Korean “lackeys” are preventing the reunification of the two Koreas.

Despite the message, it was refreshing to view a site in North Korea that truly was historic, not something newer built after the rise of Kim Il Sung. Similar tombs on the South Korean side of the DMZ have been recognized by UNSESCO as World Heritage sites.  The North Korean sites are unblemished by mass tourism and can be seen in their pristine ancient setting.

Temple in the museum in Kaesong-a bit of ancient history in North Korea

Unfortunately, the interiors of the tombs were plundered by Japanese troops during their early 20th-century occupation of Korea. However, some relics were saved and are now preserved at the Koryo Museum back in Kaesong. Housed in a former Confucian Academy that trained the children of nobility, it displays relics of the Koryo Dynasty that include several royal tombs and statues. The museum, flanked by a pair of 500-year-old gingko trees, is a revered link to the past set in a green oasis slightly removed from the city.

At a wedding in Kaesong, where the bride's costume reflects ancient history in North KoreaOutside one of the temples we watched a wedding couple as they posed for their official photos, the bride resplendent in a traditional Korean choson ot dress in a scarlet red fabric, while the groom wore a Western gray suit and the slightly dazed expression exhibited by grooms everywhere on their wedding day.

As we saw at Kaesong, the Korean peninsula has been ruled by centuries-long dynasties. We drove out of town and passed once more under the shadow of the statue of Kim Il Sung. One wonders if that icon will still be standing and venerated centuries from now.

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Despite all the hype of the current regime, it's still possible to find ancient history in North Korea

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The Venetian resort town of Bibione is a beautiful destination for a beach getaway. The gold sand beach hugs the crystal clear waters of the upper Adriatic Sea, providing a lush backdrop for a sun and surf vacation. The beach has been awarded the coveted “Blue Flag,” an award given to beaches that are managed with great care for the environment.

One of the things that impresses visitors to Bibione is just how much beach there is, stretching over six miles with a depth of almost a quarter-mile in spots, providing plenty of space for frolicking in the sand, sunbathing and recreational activities. Families love that their children can play in the abundant sand, always finding an activity with newfound friends.

During the summer the water temperature reaches 77 degrees Fahrenheit (around 25 degrees Celsius) creating a perfect swimming environment. For landlubbers there are hiking and cycling paths (20 miles worth) along the beach.

Venice is only an hour from Bibione. Bibione is conveniently located only 35 miles from one of the world’s most magical cities: Venice, just one hour by train. For those days when you want to add a little culture to your beach vacation, head over there to stroll its romantic byways and canals and perhaps take a sunset gondola ride with the sun casting its golden rays over the Grand Canal.

The Pineda ApartHotel in Bibione, Italy

An excursion just around the corner from Bibione is the Lagoon at the Valle Vecchia (Old Valley). Venice is famous for its lagoon but Bibione also offers this treat with nature. Coastal pinelands abound with more than 150 bird species, making it a birdwatcher’s paradise and providing a tranquil idyll during your stay in Bibione.

 

One of the best options for staying in Bibione is the Pineda ApartHotel, which is located just a block and a half from the beach. When we travel we like stay in places with a kitchenette. It’s easier to prepare some of our own meals and also provides a better value while in vacation. The apartment units at the Pineda ApartHotel offer kitchenettes along with terraces to catch sea breezes. A short stroll away is the Bibione Thermae, where massages and beauty treatments turn your getaway into a spa holiday.

Pineda ApartHotel in Bibione, Italy

Overall Bibione provides the ideal combination of sun, sand, culture, nature and sports activities.

This post has been provided by the Pineda ApartHotel.