Friday, April 26, 2013

Architecture in Riga, Latvia

Art Nouveau fans will be in heaven in Riga, Latvia where probably 30% of the buildings reflect this flowery architectural style.

Wander these streets: Alberta iela, Elizabetes, Strēlnieku, Blaumaņa,Vīlandes iela, Šķūņu, Smilšu iela to view a roster of Art Nouveau masterpieces by notables that include Mikhail Eisenstein, Eižens Laube, and Konstantīns Pēkšēns. With facades bearing prominent pine cones, cherubs, a sphinx, elongated faces, dragons, lotus petals, gargoyles, and curiously-shaped windows (including a resemblance to keyholes), the buildings radiate a mythical feel that, at times, even convey a sense of the macabre.

To further saturate yourself with the art nouvea vibe, spend some time in the Riga Art Nouveau Museum that's housed in lavishly-detailed former apartment of Konstantīns Pēkšēns.

These facades below are just a few of my favorites. 

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Hiking Portugal's Longest Trail

Think Portugal and what comes to mind? Of course the vibrant capital of Lisbon, swaths of sandy beaches, rich port wines, fortified hilltop towns, and ruins from Roman and megalithic periods. What about hiking? Probably not. But your next trip to Portugal should include hiking, thanks to a brand new trail, the longest in Portugal. Whether for a day or a week, you'll find that this trail, the Rota Vicentina, is all about authenticity in that the people who created it teamed up with rural accommodations that are locally owned to highlight a part of the country that sees little outside travelers. (And they did it without building a waterfront resort or yet another golf course.)

I recently wrote about my hike along the Rota Vicentina for National Geographic Traveler - Intelligent Travel.

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Gear Review: Aloe Gel

With so many chemicals in the products we purchase, it's always great to find a reputable outdoor-oriented company manufacturing environmentally-friendly creams, salves, ointments, gels and lotions to keep you from getting bitten, burned, chapped, and laden with welts and rashes after a day or more of hiking, biking or just hanging out at the beach. All Terrain is that company. Not only is this New Hampshire-based company focused on natural ingredients but they are also concerned about children's health, including obesity. (That's why they support organizations that are concentrating on getting kids to be more active.)

Two of All Terrain's products that I'm recommending in my soon-to-go-on-sale first-aid kit organizer (referred to as Doc-in-a-Bag™) are Aloe Gel and Herbal Armor Spray. So many aloe products don't seem to do much for my dry or red, irritated skin (whether from a rash or a minor sunburn) except leave me with a greasy feeling. Not so with Aloe Gel. I've applied it on my arms and legs and not a bit of the product ended up staining my clothing. 

The product, which comes in an easy-to-pack two-ounce tube ($4.99) contains chamomile and cucumber extracts as well as lavender oil, all which are noted for their skin healing properties. Also, the gel doesn't have a curious scent.

Herbal Armor Spray (4 ounces for $8.99) contains six natural oils noted for their ability to repel insects, such as mosquitoes: citronella, soybean, peppermint, cedar, lemongrass and geranium. Like any insect repellent, it's not 100% effective, of course. But I found it pretty powerful in repelling mosquitoes and flies for the first couple of hours after applying it.
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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Birding In Cuba

I arrived in Cuba (on a tour with International Expeditions) not to sample the coffee, some with elaborate foam art displaying the visage of Che Guevara; watch the daily street parade of 1950s automobiles; dance to son, danzon, rumba or other Cuban music; or sip a mojito in a Havana bar that Hemingway frequented. No, I came to check out the bird scene because, beyond this island nation's signature sights and activities is a verdant landscape brimming with bird species. 

I recently wrote about my birding experiences in Cuba for National Geographic Traveler - Intelligent Travel.

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