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To the Moon and Back

By Linda Tancs

The shorebird Rufa red knot pursues an annual migration that, over the course of an average 13-year lifespan, represents a journey to the moon and back.  Well, almost.  The average distance to the moon is 237,000 miles; the average red knot will have traveled over 194,000 miles over a lifetime–breeding in the central Canadian Arctic and wintering in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, an exodus of roughly 14,950 miles each year.  But of course there are outliers.  Like the so-called Moonbird, calculated to be at least 21 years young and to have traveled a whopping 400,000 miles.  And that’s no April Fool’s joke.  Undoubtedly, Moonbird is the king of long-range fliers in the avian world.

Bounding Europe and Asia

By Linda Tancs

Associated with the boundary between Europe and Asia, the Ural Mountains (the Urals) stretch for 1,500 miles roughly north to south from the Arctic Ocean down to central Russia and reach into Kazakhstan.  Among the world’s oldest mountain ranges, the tectonic activity giving rise to the Urals occurred about 300 million years ago between two long extinct continents.  The range is divided into five parts:  northern, southern, central, polar and sub-arctic.  The southern Urals, stretching from the valley of the Ural River near the city of Orsk to the valley of the Ufa River north of Mount Yurma, are the most popular with tourists thanks to rafting opportunities, but you wouldn’t want to miss a glorious sunset over Shugor River in the polar Urals.

 

A Taste of Valhalla

By Linda Tancs

In Norse mythology, Valhalla is the great hall where heroes slain in battle are received.  You’ll get a taste of it in Uppsala, Sweden, a place rife with Viking history.  In particular, at Gamla Uppsala you’ll encounter the royal burial mounds of ancient kings, which you can freely explore.  Nearby is Sweden’s first cathedral, built in the 12th century over a pagan temple.  Gamla Uppsala is a 30-minute bus ride from Uppsala central station.

Water, Music and Light

By Linda Tancs

Themed water shows are nothing new, but few of them consistently make the world’s top 10 lists.  Of that class, the Fountains of Bellagio in Las Vegas rank supreme.  Over 1,000 water-emitting devices spout streams choreographed to light and musical routines ranging from classical to Broadway.  Running daily, it’s free, too.  Now you have something fabulous to see once you’ve donated all your money to the tables.

The Trail of Tears

By Linda Tancs

Following the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, President Andrew Jackson engineered the forced relocation of the Cherokee nation east of the Mississippi River to lands west of the Mississippi.  Forced to flee their homeland with little more than the clothes on their back, the exodus across nine states, marked by disease and death, came to be known as the trail of tears.  This somber journey is commemorated in the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.  One of 19 national historic trails, it passes through the present-day states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.  A series of signs throughout the region alerts travelers to important markers such as documented original trails and historic sites or segments.

Pre-Civil War Grandeur

By Linda Tancs

It’s hard to imagine that a landmark example of pre-Civil War opulence like the Morse-Libby House was once scheduled to be demolished and replaced by a gas station.  Located in Portland, Maine, the mansion has all the signature elements of a classic Italian villa:  rich detail punctuated with low-pitched roofs and a soaring, square tower.  Its interior is no less impressive, boasting gas lighting fixtures, stained glass, a painted trompe l’oeil  wall and ceiling decorations, gilded surfaces, intricate plasterwork and lavish fabrics, carpets and furniture.  The mansion was built between 1858 and 1860 as a summer home for Ruggles Sylvester Morse, a Maine native who made his fortune in New Orleans as a hotel magnate.  The house was later occupied by the family of J.R. Libby, a dry goods merchant, who made few changes to the property.  It’s a good thing; the interior is the only intact surviving example of the work of famed designer Gustave Herter.

A Place Apart

By Linda Tancs

It’s a place apart, an unspoiled and uncluttered island where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Bristol Channel.   Situated off the coast of Britain’s North Devon, it’s Lundy Island.  The views, needless to say, are amazing–even more so from the helicopter that runs this time of year (November to March) from Hartland Point on Mondays and Fridays.  It’s the only way in until the MS Oldenburg starts running from April to October.  A favorite of day trippers, you can also rent a self-catering property for a longer break; the options range from a 13th century castle to a fisherman’s chalet.

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