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Normally Michael doesn’t shriek like a tween girl who just found out One Direction was breaking up. But he was this day. Being up close to the open jaws of a lion will do that to you.

We had arrived in Africa a few days earlier for a safari so Larissa could fulfill her long-time dream of seeing wild animals in their native habitat. Michael is more of a city boy, more comfortable with concrete than trees, so while he was coming along reluctantly as the good husband, he had his doubts about how this bout with nature would turn out.

During our travels around the world we met up with several people who just gushed about visiting Namibia, located on the southwest coast of Africa. Its main attraction is Etosha National Park, located about 250 miles north of the capital city of Windhoek.

wildlife in Namibia

 

About the size of New Jersey in the United States or Slovenia in Europe, Etosha surrounds a vast, blinding white saltpan and provides one of the best wildlife viewing areas in all of Africa. On any given day a visitor can spot elephants, zebras, giraffes, lions, springbok and, with a bit of luck, elusive rhinos, leopards and cheetahs.

We were riding in the park on a guided game drive in an open air Land Rover, making sure not to leave our arms dangling outside of it. Our safari driver, Ismail, knew all the hot spots or, in this case, wet spots as he sought out the waterholes where the animals congregate.

Within minutes of entering the park gate we spied a pair of giraffes loping across the road with their signature languorous stride. Despite a childhood spent leafing through animal photos in the glossy pages of National Geographic, nothing prepared us for seeing these animals up close in their native habitat. Surprisingly, Michael was enthralled as he watched the mesmerizing pace of the giraffes. We clicked through what would have been several rolls of film in the pre-digital era in about five minutes. Ismail’s gentle smile let us know that “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

wild animals Africa two giraffes crossing road (575x440)

After 20 dusty minutes on a gravel road we reached the Nebrowni waterhole, where hundreds of zebras were eagerly quenching their thirst. Sprinkled among them were springbok, dik-diks and impalas.

We watched the animals for a spell and were just about to leave when off to the right three mammoth leathery gray piles lumbered towards us. The elephants plodded along with a slow-motion rumbling gait, with their big ears flopping back and forth.

As the elephants made their deliberate progress towards the waterhole, the zebras got a bit restless. Most of them had seen this movie before and scurried away before the gargantuan onslaught.

Photo of Zebra Namibia one elephant

When elephants show up at a waterhole it’s the equivalent of the chubby kid cannonballing into the pool at a swanky hotel. Everyone else gets soaked and figures out that it’s time to leave the party. It was no different here. The zebras and springbok crept away and meandered aimlessly while waiting for the big boys to have their fun.

The elephants weren’t content to just drink the water like the other animals. They plunged right in, splashing and swinging the water around with their trunks. They played for an hour, as delighted as schoolchildren on the first day of summer.

After this adventure, we drove down a rutted gravel road through scrub pine for two or three miles where we happened upon another watering hole where a herd of thirty elephants were cavorting in the mud; the larger ones pushing the little ones aside until they swigged together at the equivalent of the “kid’s table” at the end of the pond. Elsewhere giraffes crouched into their distinctive splay-legged wide stance so they could reach down with their long necks and slurp some water. Hours slipped away as we enjoyed front-row seats for our very own live-action nature film. Elephants here, zebras there . . . hey, there goes a pack of ostriches.

Etosha 30 elephants at waterhole-Namibia

At one point Ismail pointed out a large animal about 20 yards off to the side of the Land Rover plodding through the bush. At first, all we could see were branches being disturbed but then we focused on a sight that is rare indeed, the elusive white rhinoceros. It was so close yet we never would have seen it without our guide’s trained eye. This time we put the camera down and enjoyed the moment. We were experiencing one “pinch me, I can’t believe I’m here” moment after another.

Later that evening, as the setting sun was casting a golden glow on the savannah, we got a bit more than a pinch. We had stopped on the narrow shoulder of the road and parked over a culvert to take some photos of the sunset. Meanwhile Ismail was dropping rocks onto the culvert. He said lions sometimes sleep there to escape the heat and this would bring them out. (That maxim about not waking sleeping dogs, doesn’t it apply to lions too?) But guess what: his technique worked, perhaps too well.

self-drive Namibia trip lion

Suddenly a lion, or in this case a lioness, leapt up out of the culvert where she appeared at Michael’s dangling elbow. And that’s when the shrieking started. Fortunately, the lion didn’t seem all that interested in us, or was just so shocked at the sight of a grown man whimpering so much, that she sauntered away with nary a care in the world as she returned to her nap.

Michael was a bit stunned at first, as were we at his shrieking, but like a little kid who loves being tossed in the air and repeatedly asks for more, he said, “Hey, can we do that again?” City boy was becoming nature boy as our adventure in Africa continued.

Namibia self-drive safari

For those to whom a trip to Africa is the trip of a lifetime it’s a must-see, and as Michael proved, even those for whom it’s not on the radar will experience unforgettable moments that are not available anywhere else on Earth. Just be careful if you wake up a sleeping lion.

Note: This post has been sponsored World Expeditions as part of their #WEVentureOut series. We are proud to have our “Waking a Sleeping Lion” adventure featured in this series, which encourages travelers to step outside their comfort zone and experience more of the world. For more information on trips to Africa and other unique destinations, visit the World Expeditions website.

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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Photos of North Korea

North Korea is a fascinating country that is truly like no other place on Earth.  Traveling to the last vestige of the Cold War is like entering both a time warp and a distorted hall of mirrors. However, while the regime spouts a continuous stream of propaganda at its citizens, the people were friendly and gracious, the same as people everywhere. We were particularly entranced by the children who ranged from curious to shy to just plain goofy, like any group of kids.  Here are some photos of North Korea from our recent trip there.

Photos of North Korea workers monument

The Korea Workers’ Monument. In an unusual move for a Communist country, the creative class is also represented, seen here in the paint brush.

North Korea DMZ

A rare view of the DMZ from the North Korean side. The actual border is the small curb between the blue buildings where two North Korean soldiers are facing each other. Just steps away a South Korean soldiers stands guard.

Pictures of North Korea women choson ot

Women approaching Kim Il Sung’s mausoleum wear the traditional choson ot. For many, it is the pilgrimage of a lifetime.

North Korea Arirang Mass Games

With over 100,000 performers, the Arirang Mass Games are the largest show on earth.

North Korea Choson ot Mass Dance Pyongyang

A traditional Mass Dance in Pyongyang on National Day.

Ryugyong Hotel North Korea

The 105-floor Ryugyong in Pyongyang is the tallest hotel in the world. Just don’t try making reservations. Construction stopped about 20 years ago.

USS Pueblo North Korea

A guide at the USS Pueblo, the only commissioned United States Navy ship still held in foreign hands. It was captured in international waters by North Korean forces in 1968 and its crew held hostage for 11 months.

North Korea Hureung royal tombs

With all the modern Communist iconography it’s easy to forget that North Korea has an ancient history. The Hureung tombs were built in the 15th-century to house the remains of a king and queen of the Joseon dynasty. These are statues guarding the tombs.

North Korea wedding party

A Korean wedding couple at the historic village of Chosin. Like grooms everywhere he wears an expression saying, “What am I getting myself into?”

Click on the link to view our Flickr album with more pictures of North Korea

Changes in Longitude Larissa & Michael Milne at Arctic Circle

We’re Larissa and Michael, 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 updates and valuable travel tips subscribe to our travel newsletter here.

Picher, Oklahoma is a harsh example of the effects mining can have on an area. Once a major producer of lead and zinc, the town is now a ghost town as the lead came back to haunt them.  The air, soil and water around Picher became contaminated with leftovers from the mining operations known as chat and tailings.

A 1996 study revealed that a third of the children suffered from lead poisoning. By 2009, Picher Oklahoma was a Superfund site and was virtually abandoned.

Picher Oklahoma ghost town drive in (575x402)

The D & D Drive-In still advertises burgers in its window. It later became G & J’s Gorillas cage and was the last place open in Picher.

Picher Oklahoma abandoned town Main Street (575x436)

Main Street thrived during the 1940s, when mine operations in the area produced most of the lead for bullets issued to American soldiers in World War II.

Picher Oklahoma high school track

Picher-Cardin high school’s track and gym remain, along with the Coca Cola sponsored scoreboard.

Picher Oklahoma abandoned town

The high school mascot was the Gorillas, as seen in this statue which also proclaims that Picher was the 1984 state football champ; which is a big deal in Oklahoma. It’s sad that this symbol of school spirit was left behind.

Picher Oklahoma abandoned water tower and car wash (575x470)

The Picher Gorillas water tower rises over an abandoned “Car Bath.”

Picher homes with lead pile (575x431)

The source of Picher’s troubles, piles of toxic mine waste, looms over abandoned homes. The lead waste blew over the town, causing birth defects and learning disabilities in children. A chalky grain covers everything in the town.

Picher church head on (573x575)

This abandoned church looks like something from a Gothic horror movie set.

Picher church and water tower (575x456)

The modern churches had to be abandoned too.

Picher Oklahoma burned out building

The writing on a burned out building on Main Street proclaims that Picher is a drug-free community.

Picher Oklahoma abandoned bus

Even the church bus was left behind.

We also visited the abandoned town of Centralia, Pennsylvania. In the 1960s an abandoned coal mine caught fire, it still burns today, causing the evacuation of the town. For more go to: Centralia, Pennsylvania: The Unforgettable Fire.

Here’s our story about the 10 spookiest ghost towns in America.

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Etosha National Park in Namibia is one of the top game viewing sites in Africa. The park was created over 100 years ago and is huge, larger than the state of New Jersey. We spent three days driving around the park during dry season. That’s the best time to visit since the animals must come out of hiding and flock to the waterholes to drink.

On any given day a visitor will spot zebras, giraffes, elephants, springbok, oryx and more. With a bit of luck a rhino or lion will come sauntering by. We were lucky to see both of those as well.

Namibia is a prime destination for self-drive tours in Africa. With the second lowest population density in the world (after only Mongolia) there were times when we were the only car for miles as we gazed upon the animals.

The zebras sort of surprised us. To begin with, they’re not all black and white. Some of them have a fair amount of tan coloring which we hadn’t expected. They also pretty much just stand around all day without much to do.

Pictures of Zebras at Etosha National Park in Namibia

Pictures of zebras Etosha Namibia

They also seem pretty dense, just standing in the road staring us without a thought of moving. In that way they were sort of like donkeys with stripes.

Photos of zebras Etosha Namibia

Larissa just loved how many of the zebras stood around all day doing the zebra version of spooning.

Zebras at Etosha pack at waterhole

The lone springbok (the one that looks like a deer) seems a bit lost among all the zebras at this waterhole in Etosha.

Wild animals of Namibia ostrich zebra (575x438) We don’t see this relationship working out.

Pictures of zebras Etosha Namibia elephant

These zebras don’t realize it yet but they’re about to get kicked out of the waterhole by the big, bad elephant. 

Photo of Zebra Namibia one elephant

There’s always somebody who’s the last one to get the memo.

Pictures of zebras three zebras

Here’s a short video of zebras moseying around the park:

When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD it buried the nearby Roman town of Pompeii. Layers of ash and pumice kept the village almost intact until it was rediscovered in the 1700s. We visited Pompeii with Michael’s mother a few weeks ago. Follow along as we present the following images of Pompeii:

Photos of Pompeii Mt Vesuvius

While walking around Pompeii it is hard to escape the continual presence of Mount Vesuvius.

Images of Pompeii

Many columns were sheared off by the force of the blast.

Images of Pompeii

Wildflowers abound in the cracks and crevices of Pompeii as seen at the top of this wall.

Pompeii amphitheater

The theater appears ready to put on a show.

Pompeii amphitheater

The amphitheater survived fairly intact. Pink Floyd filmed a concert video (without an audience) here in 1971.

Images of Pompeii forum

Parts of the Roman forum still retain their two-story height.

Pompeii brothel painting

In one of Pompeii’s brothels the fresco paintings on the walls survived the eruption. Over a dozen images present a visual menu of what was available to the discerning customer. Until 40 years ago this room was off-limits to female visitors as it was considered too shocking.

Photo of Pompeii pedestal table

This pedestal table sits in the courtyard of a merchant’s house.

Pompeii Mt Vesuvius

On a cloudy day the tip of the volcano appears to be steaming. Is there another eruption in its future?

Image of Pompeii green tree (550x414)

Sometimes on even a gray day a little splash of color survives. We like to think it represents rebirth and survival.

Click the link for more Italian travel stories.

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We’ve already shown tasty pictures of Bologna, the food capital of Italy. But the city also makes for a great visit in its own right. It’s the home of the University of Bologna, founded in 1088 it’s the oldest university in the Western Hemisphere, and houses many interesting architectural features. In 1568 it was decreed that all sidewalks should be covered so most structures built since then have porticoes to protect pedestrians from sun and rain. At over 30 miles, Bologna has more covered walkways than any other city in the world making it a difficult city for umbrella salesmen. And you hockey fans will love a city that has a “Via Zamboni.”

Bologna Bike

Bologna is a city of many contrasts between new and old.

Bologna painted porticos (502x550)

We didn’t walk all 30 miles of porticoes but it sure felt like it.

Bologna portico painted ceiling (550x415)

The paintings on the ceilings of some porticoes are incredibly detailed.

Bologna Neptune Statue shadow

The statue of Neptune, seen here in nighttime shadow, is called “The Giant” because of his ample derriere.

Bologna Piazza Maggiore night

The Piazza Maggiore in the center of town at night.

Bologna rooftops

The view from our flat of the rooftops of Bologna.

Bologna street musician

As a university town the street performers are a bit classier than we’re used to seeing.

Couple reading newspaper

Nobody looks more stylish reading a newspaper than Italians.

A day in the life of a Mini Cooper

Bologna Mini Cooper

He starts out the day by himself.

Bologna mini cooper smart car

Sometimes he gets someone “Smart” to talk to.

Bologna mini cooper bikes

Or perhaps a few bikes, both powered and unpowered.

Bologna mini cooper night

But by the end of the day he’s tired and just wants to go to sleep, and so shall we. Good night after another day in Bologna.


Here are some tasty food pictures of Bologna.

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.