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On the Ropes

By Linda Tancs

How far will you go for a fantastic cliffside view?  Across a wobbly rope bridge closing a 98-foot deep and 65-foot wide chasm?  If your answer is yes, then Carrick-a-Rede island in Northern Ireland is for you.  The rope bridge to the island was erected by salmon fisherman to check their salmon nets during the industry’s heyday in the area.  Along with uninterrupted views of Rathlin Island and Scotland, you’ll no doubt encounter fulmars, kittywakes, guillemots and razorbills that breed on the islands close to the bridge.  The area is rife with geological formations, flora and fauna, earning it a citation as an “Area of Special Scientific Interest.”

Mink in Maine

By Linda Tancs

Mink is an elusive animal in Isle au Haut, an island off the coast of Maine so remote that you need to take a mailboat from Stonington to get there.  French explorer Samuel Champlain noted the island in 1604 and named it Isle au Haut (High Island) because it is the tallest island in Penobscot Bay.  Not surprisingly, the year-round population is rather small (less than 100) but nonetheless dedicated to preserving their island way of life.  This is the place to take a breather from the hustle and bustle of daily life–troll for seafood or native berries, or get lost in the park.  About half the island, or 2,700 acres, is part of Acadia National Park.  Techies needn’t worry.  The Town Hall is equipped with free, high speed wireless internet access.

The Care and Feeding of Pandas

By Linda Tancs

Less than 2000 in number, the giant panda (native only to the six major mountain ranges in Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces of China) is a national and international treasure subject to intense conservation efforts.  That’s why the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding was established in March 1987.  The 92-acre verdant parkland is dotted with ornamental green lawns and greens, wild bamboo forests, woods, man-made dens, rocks, caves and plant pits along rivers, lakes, and brooks, all intended to mimic the gentle creatures’ natural environment.  Visitors get a close look at their movements through winding paths flanked with bamboo and ornamental plants.  Red pandas (called “lesser pandas”), a much smaller cousin, live at the base as well, as do other endangered wildlife, including swans, peacocks, birds, butterflies and hundreds of insects.

Panama Canal’s Centenary

By Linda Tancs

An engineering marvel of its day, the Panama Canal manages five percent of  shipments worldwide, linking more than 144 routes, 1,700 ports and 160 countries in commerce.  The grand dame is celebrating her 100th birthday today with a makeover in the works that includes new locks, wider shipping lanes and bigger ports.  A canal cruise frequently lands on the bucket list of travelers.  Look for cruise deals highlighting the centennial, including increased transits (Holland America has nearly 30 full or partial transits on its 2014 schedule), stage celebrations and enrichment classes.

Maine’s Leading Lady

By Linda Tancs

First lit on January 10, 1791, the Lighthouse at Portland Head is Maine’s leading lady according to visitors to the Pine Tree State.  Situated in Cape Elizabeth, this postcard-worthy icon adorns the shores of Fort Williams Park, a 90-acre retreat offering magnificent views of Ram Island Ledge Light and the islands of Casco Bay.  The park is open all year; the lighthouse museum opens daily during the summer season until mid-October.

Oxford’s Cathedral to Science

By Linda Tancs

Founded in 1860, Oxford University’s Museum of Natural History was created in the neo-Gothic style to evoke a cathedral–in this case, a cathedral to science.  Its insect collection, five million specimens strong, rivals that of the Natural History Museum in London.  It’s probably better known, though, for the dinosaurs, the dodo, and the swifts in the tower.  Visitors are greeted by “Stan,” a complete replica of a T-rex skeleton found in South Dakota.  Even more fascinating are the most complete remains of a dodo anywhere in the world, one of the museum’s greatest treasures.  The museum recently reopened after a 14-month restoration of its glass roof.

Ten Thousand Smokes

By Linda Tancs

The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes is a valley within Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska, a landscape created by the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century.  Open year round, hikers’ favorite destinations include the Baked Mountain Huts, Novarupta lava dome and Mount Griggs.  But this time of year, Katmai is prized as one of the premier brown bear viewing areas in the world.  This month’s viewing is particularly strong at Geographic Harbor and Funnel Creek.  For guides and/or transportation to bear viewing areas, licensed commercial operators stand ready to assist you.

A Series of Firsts at New York Port

By Linda Tancs

On July 31, 1789, the Second Session of Congress chose the village of Sag Harbor in New York as the first official port of entry into the United States.   That was a smart choice, considering that the hamlet had more square rigged vessels engaged in commerce than the Port of New York about 100 miles away.  This enterprising locale enjoys the distinction of having had the first custom house in the country, the first volunteer fire company in the State of New York and the first newspaper printed on Long Island.  Its ascension as a whaling capital was fueled by the need for whale oil to light lamps.  The Broken Mast Monument in Oakland Cemetery is a testament to the whalers lost at sea centuries ago.

Queen of the Yorkshire Coast

By Linda Tancs

Scarborough, dubbed Queen of the Yorkshire Coast, was immortalized in the Simon and Garfunkel song, Scarborough Fair.  Indeed, a fair did take place there for 500 years between the 13th and 18th centuries.  It may be better known for the fair than for the fact that it’s Britain’s first seaside resort. Its beaches, like North Bay and South Bay, overlook the ruins of Scarborough Castle and are some of the cleanest and most beautiful in the country.  Many of the hotels offer unrivaled sea views, like Red Lea, Weston, Clifton and Villa Esplanade.  For a Caribbean feel, consider a daily or weekly hire of one of those explosively colorful pastel beach huts.

The Holy Grail of Rail

By Linda Tancs

From Siberia’s wooden cottages to Moscow’s onion domes, the Trans-Siberian Railway journey is arguably the rail industry’s holy grail.  A popular route via the Trans-Siberian Express takes travelers across one-third of the world, beginning in Moscow and ending in Vladivostok, a trading port founded as a military outpost in 1860.  Along the way are history-laden stops like Ekaterinburg, founded by Catherine the Great, where Tsar Nicholas II and his family where executed in 1918.  And Ulan Ude, a Siberian city that is the center of the Buddhist Buryat culture.  Did you know that Lake Baikal, another stop, holds 20 percent of the world’s unfrozen fresh water?  On an epic ride like this, the journey is just as important as the destination.

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