Welcome to “Travel Tuesdays,” a resource for those whose plans have been deferred and a distraction for people who enjoy armchair travel. Each week we’ll suggest a virtual destination for you to visit.
All of these ideas are curated and brought to you by Lorraine Rubinacci!
Flow Country stretches across Caithness and Sutherland in the far north of Scotland (Credit: Eleanor Bentall)
Until last week, I had never heard of this place, but through the years I have sought out bogs in my travels. Indeed, I’ve traveled just to see bogs! Yes, now you know the truth.
My first encounter was at Norwell, Massachusetts’ delightful Black Pond bog, a classic kettle hole formation with concentric rings of vegetation. Then there was Hawley bog in Western Massachusetts and the coastal bogs of Maine. And, on a grander scale, there were peatlands along Alaska’s Denali Highway.
Each place supports an interesting plant and animal community: some have insectivorous plants like sundews; others have dazzling orchids. Berry-producing plants thrive: cranberry, blueberry, huckleberry, broom crowberry, and even baked-apple berry! And, of course, there’s moss -- lots of sphagnum moss.
Sphagnum capillifolium, small red peat moss
The starkly beautiful terrain of the Flow Country supports species such as wispy Cotton Grass, the Red Deer, and the Eurasian Curlew with its outrageously long bill.
A fine introduction to Flow Country can be found in this BBC Travel article which summarizes the ecology and human history of the region.
Gaelic-speaking people inhabited this area for thousands of years, their populations declining when small tenant farmers were forced off the land in order to establish more profitable sheep ranches. The region continues to be sparsely populated.
Worldwide there has been widespread abuse of bog ecosystems, from massive peat extraction projects to “conversion” projects like tree plantations which disturb the soil, the flow of water, and the dependent species. But this outlook appears to be changing as people discover the remarkable ability of peatlands to store carbon. Sizable chunks of the Flow Country have been preserved for conservation and as a carbon sink to offset climate change.
But so much for words! To get a real feel for the region, watch this video. If time is short, try the “The Flow Country in 5 Minutes.” Both are found at The Flow Country, a highly informative website that includes resources for teachers, conservationists, and tourists. Travelers will find boardwalks, bike trails, visitor centers, and local accommodations.
Until a flight to Europe is possible, you might visit Ponkapoag Bog in Blue Hills Reservation. While this property doesn’t possess the openness and panoramic sweep of larger peatlands, it will introduce you to some of the species that prefer acidic wet conditions.
Completed in 1908, Unity Temple is constructed of reinforced concrete, an innovative material for a public building of that era. The substantial, windowless ground level reduces street noise. To compensate for the lack of first floor windows and views, Wright flooded the upper reaches of the church with stained glass skylights and a clerestory, and chose a sunny yellow for the interior walls.
You will find more videos of Wright’s architecture at the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation website and the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. You might also enjoy the 3D tours of Taliesin West and Los Angeles’ Hollyhock House.
Helpful tip: unmute the sound on these videos to hear the experts’ narration. Also, you’ll need to poke around the 3D excursions to utilize the highlights, narration, and 360 degree views.
We begin our descent to the Emerald Pools during our Tongariro Crossing journey.
It’s a strenuous trip through alpine scenery, old lava fields and steam, not to mention all manner of weather in one epic 6-8 hour journey.
This journey is not for the faint hearted.
My daughter and I made the trek during a January 2017 trip to New Zealand. Of all the hiking my daughter and I have done, this one is a favorite for both of us.
My daughter, Kelly, as we climb one of the many steep sections of the trek.
Getting up as the sun is peeking above the horizon means a pretty chilly morning, even in the summer. Layering clothes on and off seemed normal after the first hour. Dealing with wind, scree, hiking poles and pushing ourselves to keep going to meet our ride back to our hostel on the other side were all part of the experience.
Looking back at the distance we have covered since we set out at 6:30 a.m.
Waking up for a 6:00 a.m. pick up may not sound like a vacation to you. Oh, but the payoff. Other worldly scenery and unbelievable views will more than make up for the early rise. There are plenty of other days to sleep in but not today. The call of these mountains will draw you to the crossing.
One of the many amazing views along the Tongariro Crossing
Planning to hike Tongariro Crossing? Watch this video by the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council for help with your plans.
Click here for the history of the park and the Ngāti Tuwharetoa tribe’s involvement with preserving the area.
Vue Generale de la vieille ville de Chinguetti en Mauritanie
Next, let’s consider the chained library in Hereford Cathedral, England. In this library, the front covers of the books are attached to their bookcases via a chain. The reader would sit at a desk in front of the chained book. Much of the Hereford collection dates back to the 12th century, with some older volumes. Hand-written and -bound, these irreplaceable manuscripts predated the printing press . . . and were extremely valuable. Medieval libraries needed to balance the accessibility of their collections with effective security. Hence, the chains. As books became less costly to produce, chained libraries all but disappeared.
Chained library in Hereford, England: medievalfragments.wordpress.com
These short films are part of the BBC’s “Incredible Libraries” playlist which includes several more remarkable “institutions.” Let’s end with a contemporary library in the Philippines, where one man, Nanie Guanlao, transformed his home into a place where local children and discarded books connect -- 24 hours per day! From a modest beginning, his library now overflows with donations that supply a mobile school that offers outreach to rural towns.
Don’t be put off by the technical language describing climbs at the beginning of the article, or by the scary photo on slide #2 showing a fellow dangling off the cliff. Overall, the text and images are accessible to a general audience and offer a nice overview of the mountain and its people: geology, weather, animals, plants, equipment, views, history, safety, etc. Chart the progress of your “climb” with the inset map and the elevation and distance icons on the bottom left.
And, in some situations, the home is the work of art. Henry Chapman Mercer - archaeologist, collector of artifacts, ceramicist - designed and constructed his totally unique, concrete Fonthill Castle . . . then adorned it with thousands of tiles of his own creation.
As a group, the studios enrich our understanding of the individual artists, the process of transforming ideas into art, the working conditions, and the historical and cultural environments.
Each of these sites is part of the Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios program, a coalition of 44 independent museums “that have come together to celebrate and investigate creativity.” The museums, which range across the country, preserve the studios of well-known artists such as Andrew Wyeth, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Frederic Church, as well as those of less-familiar artists like sculptor, Elisabet Ney.
Nearby, one can visit Chesterwood in Stockbridge, MA or the home of Augustus Saint-Gaudens in Cornish NH. That is, one can currently visit the grounds. Many of the buildings remain closed until health conditions improve. Until that time, you can expand your interest by reading the newly-published Guide to Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios by Valerie Balint, available as a downloadable book through the library’s Hoopla app.
Few forms of media capture the grandeur of a place better than aerial photography, especially high-quality, 360 degree panoramas. And that is exactly the mission of AirPano, a team of Russian photographers who utilize drones, helicopters, and other “flying machines” to document wonders around the globe. Their subjects, which span all continents, include cultural sites and celebrations as well as spectacular natural areas. Some are familiar; others less so such as this video of the Uzon Caldera in Kamchatka. The Kamchatka peninsula is a remote, wild area in eastern Russia that is renowned for its volcanoes, rivers, snowfall, and wildlife -- especially brown bears and salmon.
AirPano has a number of videos of this area (a commission of the Kronotsky Nature Reserve) including some fine footage of “The Land of Bears.” But these folks get around. In fact, they publish a new 360° video every 10 days. So if you’d like an overview of Petra or Victoria Falls or some other place before your trip, take a look at their selection.
Note: these are short videos, averaging 5 minutes in length. You have the time!
Along with videos, AirPano publishes thousands of 360° photos such as this image of the lovely Detian Falls, on the China/Vietnam border. Just remember that you can rotate these views with your mouse or keyboard.
Chronicle produced a nice 4 ½ minute overview of the Bay Circuit project. Next, explore a brand new “story map” called Welcome to the Bay Circuit Trail and Greenway. This is a virtual tour created by the Appalachian Mountain Club with tabs for history, nature, indigenous experience and stewardship. It’s one of those elegant presentations (based on ArcGIS) that combine, maps, photos, text and multimedia.
If you want to see the trail as a walker experiences it, try the YouTube videos by Chris Rich. Each one shows a section of the trail, along with some laid-back commentary. Here’s a clip from the Hockomock.
The Bowery Boys is available through many podcast services but, if you start at their website, you’ll also be able to access the companion blog that augments each topic with text and archival photos. Be warned: once an episode whets your curiosity, you might be hooked.
Two technical details to note: one must click on the title of each episode to see both the blog and the podcast; and, upon clicking the podcast, wait a moment for the recording to begin.
Next, let’s tour the otherworldly Borobudur Temple, in Java, Indonesia. This famous Buddhist temple built in the 8th and 9th centuries was rediscovered in the early 1800s after centuries of abandonment. Cleared of vegetation, excavated, and renovated, the temple can now be seen as a three-tiered structure that reflects the stages of Buddhist cosmology. Google Earth’s directional arrows and 360 views allow the virtual visitor to walk the terraces, descend stairways, and view the stories communicated through the extensive low reliefs. Find a quiet corner, pause at a Buddha statue enclosed in a stupa, and absorb the misty mountain setting.
If you enjoyed these “trips,” be sure to visit UNESCO’s website for complete descriptions of each of its 1121 properties, along with maps, photo galleries, and videos.
The first is a “Train Journey to the Norwegian Arctic Circle” on the Nordland rail line. Savor the beautiful countryside, small villages, and snow-covered evergreens -- from the unimpeded view of the train’s cab.
If you’re not fond of snow, try an adventure on the Ferrocarril Central Andino, the world’s second highest railway, running from Lima into the central Andes. This 19th century engineering marvel offers tunnels, bridges, deep river gorges, sheer cliffs, and thrills. There’s a station at 15,673 feet above sea level, and, according to a Fodor’s review, oxygen is available for passengers with elevation sickness!
The videographer split the adventure into four sessions, each running less than one hour. Part 3 ends with this scene.
I was particularly taken with A Glimpse Inside the Secluded World of A Georgian Convent, which vividly portrays an unfamiliar place and set of people. Set on a stark, high-elevation plateau, the Phoka Nunnery looks like an archaeological site. Yet it houses a small group of determined women whose hard work is benefiting the local Armenian population. Both highly-educated and down-to-earth, they have restored the church, started a school, created a cheese-making business, and revived local handicrafts. The photographer’s fine black-and-white images are otherworldly.
And, then, there is Reveling in the Enigmatic Beauty of Easter Island which portrays the moai, the ancient statues for which the island is famous. The photojournalist, to his credit, also observes the local population and the impacts of tourism.
Here’s a link to five more essays in the series.
Or, for pure over-the-top extravagance, visit Atlantis, The Palm in Dubai where Islamic architectural motifs meet theme park entertainment. Here you will find waterslides, palm trees, light shows, ziplining, celebrity chefs, and underwater suites!
Like any good explorer, you will need to poke around: click on the “bubble” symbols to move to the next topic, click on the circular “speaker” to hear the narration, and don’t skip the extra photos and video clips available for your pleasure. Like other Google Earth experiences, this tour provides a 360-degree view simply by dragging your cursor. Now that’s not nearly as strenuous as donning a harness and descending by rope!
Then, watch this very atmospheric short on The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden on the Big Island. This preserve for tropical plants began as a restoration project undertaken by one determined man with vision. Savor his “garden in a valley on the ocean.” Who can resist a tree fern?
This week’s Travel Tuesday suggestion requires thought: yes, let’s keep those brain cells working! GeoGuessr is a game that tests your knowledge of geography and your memory. For each round of play, you are shown a “street view” of a particular location. Your job is to discern where this location is and to pin a map with your guess. The closer your guess is to the correct answer, the more points you earn. It’s not easy.
One can choose to play “World,” “US,” “Famous Places,” “Ghost Towns,” “Where’s that McDonald’s?” and many more.
You do need “sign up” for a free account which lets you play one five-question round per day. If this doesn’t satisfy your curiosity, you can purchase the “Pro” option for $2/month.
For years, I’ve played my own version of this game: guess the location of scenic calendar photos. GeoGuessr is more challenging and really interesting because it requires very close observation. This ability to notice small details will make all future travel more rewarding when we can, once again, explore the world.
Their new fynbos exhibit highlights these endangered (and very cute) birds that live south of Capetown. They are active and gregarious which makes for lively viewing. The zoo’s website provides good information in the “learn more about” section.
Next, take a virtual safari at Tembe Elephant Park, a wildlife reserve near the border of Mozambique. This morning, an elephant, giraffe, and birds were at the watering hole. And, the camera rolls day and night. Just remember to account for the time difference.
This time let’s try some indoor entertainment: visiting some of the world’s best museums. Start with “10 Top Museums You Can Explore Right Here Right Now.”
With the help of Google street view, savor Dutch masterpieces at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. Or see this dazzling installation at Seoul’s National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art:
Or, perhaps, visit the Sao Paulo Museum of Art, whose distinctive building floats above ground and whose prestigious collection appears to hover in mid air:
And, if that’s not enough to quench your thirst for fine art, Google Arts & Culture provides tours of 1,200 other international museums -- slide shows, interpreted exhibits, and more.
‘Til next week, happy travels!
Check out the photos below of Wind Cave National Park, courtesy of our own intrepid traveler, Lorraine Rubinacci.
‘Til next week, happy travels!