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I’M GOING ON A SAFARI!!!!

A little over a year or so ago, I read about Gerry Van der Walt from Wild Eye Photo Safaris as being the one to watch on Periscope for wildlife. I started watching him on safari tours and it was amazing to see the lions, hippos, elephants, rhinos, big cats, etc ~ and all of it was live. But I became “hooked” when I switched over to Snapchat which is my preferred forum for seeing all the wildlife updates. Gerry posted lots of the baby animals. Seriously, what’s cuter than those amazing strong animals as tiny (and not so tiny) babies. Cue: Heart Melting!!

Gerry and the rest of the Wild Eye team are very consistent with updating their social media, so much so that when Gerry went quiet for a few days ~ I became worried something happened on one of the safaris. Those animals do get close to the vehicles. Turns out, I missed the snap where he said he was going somewhere without wifi and he would be off-line.

The photos and snap stories are so amazing and I shared many of them with my husband and daughter. Through Gerry’s instagram account, I found a youth photographer, David whose award-winning photo is now on exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History’s Nature’s Best Photography Exhibit.  If you’re in Washington, DC and have an interest in wildlife/photography, I highly recommend seeing the exhibit. The “Leopards” photo was taken while David was on a Wild Eye safari in the Timbavati Private Reserve.

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Youth Photographer viewing “Youth Photographer” winners at the Museum of Natural History

I’ve dreamed about going on a safari ever since those Wild Kingdom TV shows back in the day. Whenever my husband and I discussed going, it always came down to time and money. Mostly money. It seemed out of our reach. And I’m not a fan of being on tour groups where I’m required to be around a lot of people and on their schedule. I was overwhelmed with the logistics, money and basic planning. I didn’t want to go on a trip of a lifetime and not enjoy it because I didn’t know what or where to go. It seemed too daunting to tackle.

Things changed this past fall when one day Gerry asked on Snapchat “What’s keeping you from going on a safari?” My first thought was “the logistics” and secondly, I thought about the cost. It must be common to everyone because he immediately addressed how Wild Eye can organize a tour based on a budget provided by the guest.

I took a chance and emailed my per-person budget along with possible dates. Gerry wrote back within hours and asked pertinent questions about my preferences: which were the top animals I wanted to see, luxury v. eco-lodge, and did I prefer to be with other people or on a private guide. A few days later, Gerry recommended we go on a privately guided safari in the Timbavati Private Preserve in South Africa with Michael from Wild-Eye. Having already seen David’s (youth photographer) great photos from Timbavati, I was sold.

Timbavati borders Kruger National Park and, because there are no fences, the animals go back and forth between the park and the preserve. Bottom line, we wouldn’t be going on this trip if I hadn’t stumbled onto Wild Eye through periscope. They’ve made it too easy to plan such a fabulous adventure.

More on the details of planning in my next post but if you want to follow Wild Eye to see their fabulous wildlife images, you have your pick of social media outlets:

  • Gerry (Wild Eye founder) is on Instagram/Twitter/Snapchat as: Gerryvanderwalt
  • Gerry’s The Wildlife Photography Podcast is on Itunes/Soundcloud
  • Our guide is on Instagram and Snapchat as: Michael.Laubscher
  • For additional info on Wild Eye click here
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As a family, we’ve hiked in locations around the world and have been lucky enough to hike in Germany, Slovenia, Guam, Hawaii, Virginia, and many more. But I wasn’t surprised when my daughter deemed the Kīlauea Iki Trail on the Big Island as her all-time favorite hike. It’s a fascinating place located within the Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. Kilauea remains an active volcano to this day.

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At the Kīlauea Iki sign, you can go in either direction but I would advise taking the trail to the right and hike counter-clockwise which will lead you through a rain forest, the 1959 lava lake, steam vents, cinder cones, and large fissures in the lava. Keep an eye out for the native nēnē (Hawaiian Goose) ~ we saw two but they were too fast to get a photo. The nēnē are the sixth most endangered waterfowl species in the world.

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The rainforest section of the trail is well-worn but be careful with the rocks and occasional exposed roots. We started early in the morning and didn’t see anyone else until we got to the lava lake.

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On hikes, my daughter only uses her phone to take photos but while we were on the trail, her college released the dorm assignments and she was excited to learn where she would be living for a year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the dorm she preferred and it was the only sad part of the hike. But, fast-forward six months later, and she’s thrilled with her suitemates and her dorm.

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The ‘Ōhelo berries are a favorite treat for the nēnē and can be found throughout the trail. It is a hardy plant that even grows on the lava. The plant is a relative to the blueberries and the berry can range in color from dark red to pale yellow.

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The amazing view from the rainforest.

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It was a little surreal to see a runner come through as we walked along the deserted and isolated lava crater but he obviously runs this trail frequently.

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Be sure to follow the Ahu (stacked rocks) to find your way through to the other side of the trail. Please don’t disturb them!

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If you go, here are a few words of advice:

  • The trail is moderate to challenging. It’s steep and rocky. The descent/ascent is 400 feet (122m).
  • It’s a 4-mile (6.4km) loop. It took us approximately 2.5 hours and we stopped for a snack.
  • The trail head is 2 miles (3.2km) from the Visitor’s Center.
  • Once you’re at the Kīlauea Iki parking lot (off of Crater Rim Drive), you may go either way from the trailhead. We preferred to go right which took us through the rainforest first then down to the crater floor.
  • Be sure to bring water, food, hat, sunscreen, camera and rain gear. Be prepared for all types of weather conditions: hot, dry, wet, windy (!). Please remember to “leave only footprints” and bring all your trash and items back out of the area.

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I had the opportunity to leave the social media realm and see several of my favorite photographers’ works in the real world. It got me thinking about why I follow certain photographers out of the millions who are on social media.

As a wildlife fan, I find myself skimming instagram, twitter, wordpress and snapchat for all things wildlife and nature oriented. But there are only five photographers I follow daily ~ they bring an extra dash of joy to my life with their amazing skills and ability to capture the essence of majestic creatures. All five have one essential quality in common which is required for me to follow them; they are all conservationists.

My most recent follow is @Davidrphoto on Instagram. Of the photographers I follow, he is by far the youngest, currently a student at Stanford and his photos are from his trips to Africa. His “Youth Photographer of the Year” award-winning photo is currently on display at the National Museum of Natural History. The exhibit is titled: The 21st Annual Nature’s Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards Smithsonian Exhibition. Windland Smith Rice was a nature photographer and conservationist.

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The exhibition includes short videos with footage of the moments the photographer captures the award-winning photo. I was completely enthalled watching the videos and blown away by the amazing talent. I’m especially impressed with the profound patience they possess which is required to capture the perfect shot.

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Video of the “Youth Photographer of the Year” winner David Rosenzweig

If you have an interest in photography, I highly recommend attending the free exhibit when you’re in Washington DC. The current exhibit will be on display until Sept 2017. The museum is located along the National Mall at 1000 Madison Drive NW. The closest metro stop is Archives/Navy Museum (Yellow Line).

There’s more information at the Museum of Natural History and you can view the photos on Facebook. I promise you the images are stunning in person and well worth the trip to the museum.

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Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History ~ Exhibit Banners

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My visits to the Big Island follows a familiar pattern: land in Kona, rent a vehicle and head to the Volcano Nationals Park for a couple of nights. Many of my mother’s family live on the Hilo-side of the island and it’s always great to see them and catch up with all the happenings.

We landed later than usual (after 8pm), and since the drive to Volcano National Park is about 95 miles from the airport, we decided to stay the night in Kailua-Kona. Kona is probably the most “touristy” spots on the island ~ reminds me of Lahaina on Maui. Lots of shops, restaurants and activities. And traffic.

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The Parks & Rec building in Kona


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Early Morning in Kailua-Kona

Kamehameha the Great, the first king to rule all the Hawaiian Islands, chose Kailua-Kona as his home. It’s not hard to imagine why ~ the waters are bountiful with fish, the area is beautiful and, if you can picture it without throngs of tourists, it would be an ideal place to call home.

Here are a few highlights of the town:

The historic sites include Hulihe’e Palace, built in 1838 by Governor Kuakini, is now a museum run by the Daughters of Hawaii. Directly across the street from the palace is the Mokuaikaua Church, built 1820. It’s the first Christian church built in the Hawaiian islands.

Kailua-Kona is the start of the swim and the finish of the world-famous Ironman Triathlon. Below is the swim start:

Kona start of the Ironman swim and end of the run

Every October, about 2,000 athletes compete in the Ironman by swimming 2.4 miles in the rough ocean waters, 112-mile bike ride and to finish it off, there’s a 26.2 run which must be completely within 17 hour deadline. It’s a brutal event and, many years ago, I was thrilled when I had a chance to cheer some of the participants during the running event.

Kailua-Kona is a great stop for a day or two but don’t let it be your only experience on the Big Island ~ there’s so much more to do and see elsewhere on the island.

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Sailboat in Kailua Bay

 

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…Aloha Hawaii. It’s rare for my family to veto me when it comes to travel locations but half way into my Tour of France planning, I got the word that neither my husband nor my daughter wanted to spend their vacation on an extended road trip. They both preferred two weeks on a beach in Hawaii. It’s been six years since I’ve seen my Big Island family and friends so I immediately changed my focus to Hawaii.

I’ve booked my first AirBnB! I was very apprehensive due to several horror stories I’ve read but, even though it’s called the “Big” Island of Hawaii, it’s really a close-knit community. Once I found the “perfect” place to rent, I contacted a friend who lives in the same town & wasn’t surprised that he knows the owner. I feel much better about prepaying the entire stay when it’s the friend of a friend.

A few photos from our previous visit to Hawaii to get us into the Aloha-Spirit…

 

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The Kennedy Center is a living memorial honoring President John Kennedy. The iconic Kennedy Center’s history began in 1958 as the National Cultural Center. It was a product of bi-partisan legislation signed by President Dwight Eisenhower, but as a strong supporter of the arts, President Kennedy became the driving force in raising the funds to complete the construction of the Center. He appointed his wife, Jacqueline and Mrs. Eisenhower as honorary co-chairwomen which I find fascinating since they were from different political parties but worked together on this important endeavor. Not something we see much of in today’s polarized political climate in the US. 

In January 1964, two months after President Kennedy was assassinated, Congress designated the National Cultural Center as a living memorial and renamed it: The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Congress appropriated $23 million to fund it and fundraising continued with the Friends of the Kennedy Center volunteers. The volunteers worked earnestly across the country, raising money from private support and from nations around the world who respected President Kennedy and wanted to contribute to his legacy. Because the Center is a Federal Memorial, it continues to receive funding each year for the maintenance and operation of the facility but the artistic and educational programs are paid for through ticket sales and gifts from individuals, corporations and private foundations.

President Lyndon Johnson participated in the ground breaking ceremony in December 1964, and in keeping with its historic importance, he used the same gold-plated shovel which was also used in the ground breaking ceremonies for the Lincoln Memorial (1914) and the Jefferson Memorial (1938). The Kennedy Center officially opened in 1971 and the New York Times wrote a rave front page review which stated “The capital of this nation finally strode into the cultural age tonight with the spectacular opening of the $70 million [Kennedy Center]…a gigantic marble temple to music, dance, and drama on the Potomac’s edge.”

I always enjoy going to the Center and had the opportunity to attend several musicals including “Wicked”, “South Pacific” and “Book of Mormon.” I became a member for one year and appreciated their member benefits. As members, my daughter and I were able to watch a rehearsal of the National Orchestra. As a viola player, my daughter loved observing the behind the scenes of a professional orchestra.

Earlier this month,  I finally made it to one of the free performances at The Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. We arrived early enough to take the last free tour at 4:30 p.m. I particularly enjoyed seeing the contributions of artwork throughout the Center which had been generously donated by several foreign governments. Click here to see the book listing all the gorgeous gifts given to the Center.

The Millennium Stage offers free performances nightly from 6 to 7 pm. The Happy Hour at the Grand Foyer bar is from 5-6 p.m. Seating begins at 5:30 and you can take your drink/food with you to your seat. The monthly calendar usually comes out the last week of the previous month. Click here for a list of upcoming performances.

Tips for visiting The Kennedy Center:

  • If you’re 18-30, you can sign up for My Tix at kennedy-center.org/mytix which offers discounted and free tickets.
  • There’s a free shuttle between the Center and the Foggy Bottom Metro Station. Departing every 15 minutes from 9:45 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday, 11:45 t0 midnight on Sunday, and 4:00 p.m. to end of last performance on Holidays.
  • If you want a good seat for the Millennium Stage performances, be in line shortly after 5 p.m.

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The Kennedy Center

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Springtime always brings houseguests to our home and many of our visitors are first-timers to Washington DC. Although each person has their own particular interests/dislikes, and depending on their length of stay, there are sights I suggest everyone should see during their maiden journey into the city. My top 10 Washington DC (and surrounding area) must see list is as follows:

  • The Monuments at Night ~ The monuments are spectacular anytime of day but when they are lit up, they become magical. Bonus if there’s a full moon.
  • The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage Performance ~ There are free performances of music or dance every night at 6 pm.For a schedule, click here.

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The National Mall ~ Smithsonian Museums, National Gallery of Art and The US Capitol

  • Smithsonian Museums ~ It would take weeks to explore all the wonderful and free museums in Washington DC. Visitors should “speed-date” by walking along The National Mall and ducking into each museum to see the highlights. Visitors can return to the museum they liked best for a deeper dive into all the treasures. Some of the more popular displays are: the Hope Diamond at the Natural History Museum, the Star Spangled Banner flag at the American History Museum and the Kitty Hawk at the Air & Space museum. Click here for more information on all things Smithsonian.
  • The National Gallery of Art ~ My personal favorite. Again, this could take weeks to explore but it’s worth popping into the gallery for a few hours to gaze at the paintings and sculptures which spans from the middle ages to the present. Don’t miss the: Little Dancer (Degas)Self Portrait (Rembrandt van Rijn), and the paintings by the masters such as Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and many more. For information on hours and directions, click here.

Capitol Building with scaffolding

  • The U.S. Capitol Building ~ Take a tour of the Capitol building and stop in to see the Senate in session.
  • The Library of Congress ~ The building is gorgeous especially the Reading Room. There’s an original copy of a Gutenberg Bible (circa 1455)  on display in the lobby. It’s the first bible (major book) printed in Western Europe using movable metal type and was one of the turning points from the Middle Ages into the Renaissance era.
  • Mount Vernon Estates ~ Mount Vernon is located 14 miles south of Washington DC along the GW Parkway. The house and grounds are lovely. Give yourself about four hours in order to tour the home, wander the grounds and visit the on-site museum. Mount Vernon is accessible by public transportation, boat, biking and private vehicle (parking is free). For directions and assistance on getting there, click here.

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Washington Monument

  • Washington Monument ~ Tickets are free but have a $1.50 service charge per person and anyone two years and older are required to have a ticket to go to the top of the monument. Tickets go on sale three months prior and I highly recommend purchasing them online the day they go on sale. Tour buses snap them up quickly. Click here for more information. If you’re unable to get tickets online, there are a limited number of Same Day tickets distributed at 8:30 am at the National Park Service building located at 15th street near the monument. These are free same-day, timed tickets and one person can get up to six. The line forms much earlier than 8:30am so get an early start.
  • Georgetown ~ It’s a dynamic area of DC to wander around; parts of it are serene and parts are packed with people. Stop in to see the gorgeous Georgetown University campus, take a peek at The Exorcist stairs (and run up them if you’re in great shape), walk along waterfront park and stop in for coffee/pastries at Baked and Wired.

Please note: All buildings in Washington DC have security at the entrances and be prepared to go through a scanner. There are lists of prohibited items on each website. It’s best to pack lightly when touring around DC.

I’ve used my list for the last five years for about thirty first-time visitors. Only one houseguest went rogue. She preferred to visit the National Cathedral, Catholic Basilica, the Botanical Gardens and the Arboretum. That’s the great thing about Washington DC ~ there’s something for everyone!

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