Jdomb's Travels http://jdombstravels.com Adventure Travel With a Glass of Wine Sun, 14 Sep 2014 08:06:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.0 Kayaking in Iceland’s Westfjords http://jdombstravels.com/kayaking-in-iceland-westfjords/ http://jdombstravels.com/kayaking-in-iceland-westfjords/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 12:46:26 +0000 http://jdombstravels.com/?p=58835 Jdomb's Travels

Remote. Unspoiled. Breathtaking. With words like that used to describe Iceland’s north-west corner, known as the Iceland Westfjords, how could we not spend time in this true Icelandic wilderness? The Westfjords are teeming with wildlife – seabirds, seals, whales, and other marine mammals. There couldn’t be a better way to get up close to the …

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Remote. Unspoiled. Breathtaking. With words like that used to describe Iceland’s north-west corner, known as the Iceland Westfjords, how could we not spend time in this true Icelandic wilderness? The Westfjords are teeming with wildlife – seabirds, seals, whales, and other marine mammals. There couldn’t be a better way to get up close to the wildlife than to do some paddling.

Seals in Iceland Westfjords

How many seals do you count?

Locals always know the best spots and the team at the family run Borea Adventures were happy to share a few of Iceland’s best kept secrets with us as we tried out a new kayaking day tour they’ll be adding to their offerings for the upcoming season. Borea Adventures is located in the heart of Ísafjörður and we met our guide, Örvar, there. We’d be driving out to Hestfjörður, the narrow steep-walled fjords known as the Horse Fjord. It’s one of the best places in Iceland where you’re almost guaranteed to see seals.


As we launched our kayaks out in to the water, the seals all took a dive. Curious critters that they are, at least 20 heads would pop up craning for a better look at us. The seals were just as interested in us as we were in them and as we paddled out, they’d pop up right next to us to see what we were up to.

The seals continued to pop-up and dive around us as we paddled out toward Vigur Island. The water was nearly like glass, making it easy to spot them. We kept our eyes peeled for any whale spouts or fins. Though we never did spot any whales, like the humpbacks that like to come in to the fjord, some harbour porpoise did give us a show. They are the smallest marine mammal and look a bit like dolphins.

Kayaking to Vigur IslandVigur Island is a small island in the Westfjords known as the “Spear Island” because of its shape. Once upon a time, four families lived and farmed there. Now just one farmer remains. He is the fourth generation to inherit and live on Vigur Island and once we paddled  ashore, we could immediately see why he enjoys living there so much. The 360-degree views are simply spectacular!

All that paddling makes even the heartiest explorer famished. Örvar’s family also runs a small cafe and his brother had packed each of us a lunch bag. Everything is homemade and is both organic and local. The cafe bakes the bread for the sandwiches and the tomatoes and cheese come from a farmer in town. We also enjoyed fresh baked muffins and granola bars. Seriously the best granola bars we’ve ever had! His mother keeps the recipe a secret, even from Örvar. He joked with us that to work in the cafe you must sign a non-disclosure agreement before you get to help make the granola bars.

Eider ducks on Vigur Island

Eider ducks hanging out on shore

Fueled up on a healthy and delicious lunch, we set out to explore Vigur Island. In July and August all sorts of sea birds, like puffin, come to the island to nest and raise their young. We’d missed them leaving by only about two weeks, but the Eider ducks call the island home year round. The farmer makes a nice nesting area for them and slowly “steals” their feathers all summer long. He produces the expensive and luxe Eiderdown from the feathers collected in the small factory on the island. But not to worry, he replaces what he steals with hay and the Eider ducks are perfectly happy. Bring your credit card and you can go home with a very nice Eiderdown quilt, though it might cost you more than your flight to Iceland.

Iceland's only windmill

Iceland’s only windmill

Vigur Island is also home to Iceland’s only windmill. It was built in 1840 and used to grind grains. It was really ingenious when it was built – the whole thing turns so that it could always catch the wind no matter which direction it was blowing. It’s no longer used, but it is quite picturesque.

You can even mail a postcard with a special stamp made only for Vigur Island from the tiny Post Office. It’s the smallest Post Office in Europe.

Vigur IslandThe island is home to around 30 sheep, though the main livelihood is the production of the Eiderdown. Stroll around the “highlands” of the island and you’ll run into the sheep munching away on the grass. You can also walk down to the beach and have a look at the “face” rocks. Icelanders believe in trolls and elves and Örvar points out that this rock looks like a head with a big nose sticking out, eyes, and like the troll even has hair.

The walk around the island is perfect to stretch your legs before hopping back in to the kayak to paddle back across to the fjord.

Know Before You Go

  • The Vigur Island and Seals kayak tour is available from May – September. Inquire with Borea Adventures and check out their other tours from kayaking to skiing.
  • Paddling to Vigur Island is 10km (6.2 miles) round trip.
  • Wear warm water repellant clothing and socks. A dry suit and life jacket are provided to go over your clothing.

Disclosure: Our Vigur Island kayak tour was hosted by Borea Adventures in order to bring you this story. As always, all opinions are entirely our own.

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Beach Bummin’ at The Shores Resort & Spa http://jdombstravels.com/the-shores-resort-and-spa/ http://jdombstravels.com/the-shores-resort-and-spa/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 13:43:42 +0000 http://jdombstravels.com/?p=57700 Jdomb's Travels

I was happy to end an extremely busy 4-city trip through the US at Daytona’s The Shores Resort & Spa. And aside from literally getting my heart – and the NASCAR I was driving – racing at the Daytona International Speedway, I was more than happy to do nothing more than plant my bum on …

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I was happy to end an extremely busy 4-city trip through the US at Daytona’s The Shores Resort & Spa. And aside from literally getting my heart – and the NASCAR I was driving – racing at the Daytona International Speedway, I was more than happy to do nothing more than plant my bum on the beach and relax. *Gasp* I even put away the camera and mostly put down my phone to just enjoy lounging on the beach.

Just 3 miles from the beach shops and historic district, The Shores Resort & Spa sits on a beautiful (and quiet) strand of the barrier island. The boutique beachfront luxury hotel offers a menu of luxe amenities from an un-crowded beach to four-poster feather beds you’ll hardly want to pull yourself out of.

S'mores at The Shores Resort & Spa

Guests get a s’more making kit with all the essentials for making the ooey-gooey treats

As I checked in, the friendly staff handed over my S’mores kit and I knew I was going to love this hotel. Every night from sunset on, you can toast up marshmallows in The Shores’ fire pits to enjoy beachfront S’mores. My kind of place!

The Shores Resort & Spa

Photo courtesy of The Shores Resort & Spa

The rooms are spacious and decorated in a beachy chic theme, though the four-poster feather bed is the pièce de résistance. The bathroom is on the small side, but a separate vanity area outside the bathroom makes up for the lack of space.

The white sand beach, outdoor swimming pools, jacuzzi, tiki bar, and spa beckon you to actually leave the otherwise cozy room and experience the rest of what the resort has to offer. Can’t choose between beach and pool? Private access to the beach for resort guests makes it easy to alternate between the oasis of the resort’s sun deck and the gorgeous beach. There were chair and umbrellas rentals on the beach or just put your towel down in the sand.

Azure restaurant at The Shores Resort & SpaAfter working up an appetite swimming around in the couldn’t-be-a-more-perfect-temperature Atlantic Ocean, the on-site restaurant Azure’s menu tempted me with plenty of fish and seafood. Since I couldn’t choose just one dish for lunch and since I was indulging, I had the coconut mussels and a fried oyster po’boy. You can dine outside on the elevated terrace or indoors in the elegant restaurant. But who would want to be indoors when the weather was so gorgeous?

S'mores at The Shores Resort & Spa

Photo courtesy of The Shores Resort & Spa

As sun sets, which unfortunately is behind you as the beach faces east, the lovely blue of dusk sets in and the fire pits are lit. Grab an Adirondack and have your S’more kit ready. It’s the perfect way to end a day of relaxation in Daytona!

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Outdoor Adventures in Sweden’s Dalsland http://jdombstravels.com/dalsland-sweden/ http://jdombstravels.com/dalsland-sweden/#comments Mon, 25 Aug 2014 17:02:25 +0000 http://jdombstravels.com/?p=57632 Jdomb's Travels

The deep forests and shimmering lakes of Dalsland, Sweden are an outdoor enthusiasts’ dream. The serene environment where moose roam, beaver build their dams, and salmon swim in winding streams is where explorers indulge in an array of activities. Covered in more lakes than any other Swedish province, the labyrinth of interconnected lakes are perfect …

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The deep forests and shimmering lakes of Dalsland, Sweden are an outdoor enthusiasts’ dream. The serene environment where moose roam, beaver build their dams, and salmon swim in winding streams is where explorers indulge in an array of activities. Covered in more lakes than any other Swedish province, the labyrinth of interconnected lakes are perfect for wild swimming, fishing, canoeing, and lakeside camping – just to name a few of the activities nature lovers can do in this idyllic setting.  Take a look at some of our favorite adventures from Dalsland:

Railbiking in Dalsland, SwedenRailbiking on the Dal–Västra Värmlands Järnväg

Railbiking sounded intriguing from the moment we heard about it, so we just had to give it a try (even in the rain). It is actually one of the most unique things to do and way to explore Dalsland. The Dal–Västra Värmlands Järnväg, or The Beautiful Vyernas Railway as it translates in English, is justly named so.

Adventures can travel on the old inspection trolleys converted to “railbikes” with a bike saddle on the now unused Dal–Västra Värmlands Järnväg for 52 kilometers between Bengtsfors and Årjäng. You can even load up your trolley and pedal along the old railway for a multi-day adventure, stopping to camp along the way.

If you’re not up for pedaling the full length, not to worry. You can rent the railbikes for anywhere from 1 hour to several days. You can start from either direction and pedal as far as you like. Just turn your trolley around and head back to where you came from when you’re done.

We had the railroad to ourselves the day we went railbiking. It had been raining continuously all morning and even the Swedes who are used to being outdoors in all types of weather looked at us like we were crazy when we wanted to railbike in the rain. Railbikes can come off the railroad track if you get too much speed and a wet railroad just increases those chances. There is also a crossing where there is regularly residential traffic not far from the station in Bengtsfors and the attendant told us this is where accidents happen when they do happen.

Railbiking is safe so long as you are aware that the trolley can come off the track and that you need to slow down in time to stop at the crossing. Once we got going, we laughed the whole time. Living up to its name, The Beautiful Vyernas Railway, there are plenty of picturesque spots to stop for photos. Just remember to always remove your railbike from the railroad tracks so you’re not in the way for others on the railroad.

Railbike rental is 435kr (about $62 USD) for a 1 day rental. 

Mountain biking in Dalsland, SwedenMountain Biking

If railbiking sounds a bit too crazy or just plain odd, there are plenty of trails inching along the lakes, through the forests, and across the plains which are perfect for mountain biking. You can pick up a map of the various cycling routes through Dalsland at any of the tourist offices or you can make your own route.

Veer off of gravel roads for exhilarating forest paths the edge along the lake before zigging back into the trees. You might even encounter some of Dalsland’s wildlife like moose or beavers. The gravel roads connect villages, farms, museums, cafes, art studios, and shops. There’s never a fear of getting lost for visitors unfamiliar with the area, even on unknown roads, as you can rent a GPS from companies like Silverlake Camp, where we also rented mountain bikes.

It was raining steadily when we set out from Silverlake Camp, so we stuck to the lakeside path and biked to the dam hoping to see some beaver. We didn’t have luck spotting beaver, but there were beautiful views around every bend – even in the rain.

Mountain bike rental with helmet from Silverlake Camp is 200kr (about $30 USD) per day.

Canoeing in Dalsland, SwedenCanoeing Dalsland’s Lakes

Dalsland has a unique lake system of over 1000 lakes, many of which are linked together by the Dalsland canal. The clear water and clean air beckon adventures to explore the island dotted lakes by canoe.

Though we are no strangers to kayaking, we’d actually never been in a canoe together. With a waterproof map and some snacks, we set out from our campsite. We paddled until our arms ached and then pulled our canoe ashore at a sandy beach down the lake for a rest.

We tried to explore one teeny tiny island situated in the middle of the lake, but it was like a scene out of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds when a nest of seagulls started dive bombing threateningly. We quickly paddled away. We paddled around other islands and along rocky cliffs rising from the sea.

Dalsland Aktiviteter

Meet Thor, the bull moose at Dalsland Aktiviteter

Feeding Moose at the Moosepark

More than 500,000 moose roam Sweden’s forests, though even driving some of the forest roads at a turtle’s crawl we still didn’t spot any wild moose. We did, however, have the chance to get up close with several moose at Dalsland’s Aktiviteter Center.

As we followed Pontus, owner of Dalsland Aktiviteter to the protected moose area, the moose came right away knowing they were in for a treat. Pontus lovingly patted the moose and they gave him a nudge back. The large bull moose (the term for a male moose) named Thor had been found as just a baby after his mother died and grew up on the 14 hectares of land at Dalsland Aktiviteter. He’d clearly come to love Pontus. Another moose was currently pregnant and Pontus explained she was missing because she was off somewhere getting ready to birth her calf.

We learned about how the bull moose loose their antlers each fall and grow a new set every spring. Only the males grow antlers and these are for impressing cows (female moose) and showing their dominance in the pack.

Pontus knows so much about moose because he grew up with them, hunting moose from a young age with his father. He still hunts moose during the season, which helps to keep Sweden’s population under control. Though he doesn’t just hunt for fun; the meat is used and the cafe at Dalsland Aktiviteter specializes in a moose burger.

We couldn’t pass up on trying the moose burgers and they were delicious. Moose meat is full of protein and is much healthier than beef. It’s a perfect meal for fueling up before canoeing around Dalsland’s lakes.

Camping at Dalsland AktiviteterCamping Lakeside

Canoeing and feeding moose aren’t the only activities offered at Dalsland Aktiviteter; you can do everything from ziplining on Sweden’s longest zipline to camping in teepees at several campsites. Camping in the teepees was actually my favorite thing we did on our In A Volvo adventure.

There are some conveniences that border on glamping, like having shower facilities at the reception center, jacuzzi, sauna and an excellent dinner. Though it was nearly a Survivor situation when we had to chop our own wood for the fire and get it lit. Tim, who I’m not sure has actually ever chopped wooded before, did nick himself with the axe.

Camping at Dalsland Aktiviteter

Chopping wood for s’mores and dinner

But it was nothing that a s’more couldn’t fix. We’d found marshmallows and chocolate at a grocery store in town and substituted gingersnaps for graham crackers. Tim chopped enough wood to get the fire going and I kept his energy up for more chopping by supplying a constant stream of toasted marshmallow and melted chocolate sandwiched between gingersnaps. I dubbed our creation the “Swedish s’more” and it was actually pretty delicious.

Pontus had delivered us a cooler with all the fixings for dinner: seasoned steaks to grill up, potatoes, salad, bread and dessert. We had cold beers, sodas, and a pot to make coffee or tea. It was perfectly for enjoying a leisurely dinner under the midnight sun.

The teepees are basic, but comfortable. You put down pine branches and reindeer furs, then put your sleeping bag on top. Even in Sweden’s cool early summer, we were plenty warm all night. And luckily for me, Tim got up and got the fire going before coaxing me out of my sleeping bag for breakfast.

Camping at Dalsland Aktiviteter with dinner and activities ranges from 990kr to 1890 kr ($150 – $275 USD) per family depending on the activities selected. 

Related: Campfire S’more Recipes

Lancashire ruins in Dalsland, SwedenExploring the Ruins of Bäckefors

The old iron factory and village is now mostly in ruins, but it is the best preserved memories of the 19th century iron industry in Dalsland. Here you can see the ruins of the Lancashire smiths from England and a small museum explains more about the iron factory. Most of the smithys lie in stone ruins, but The Brewery remains in excellent condition and is painted the Swedish red so commonly seen throughout the country.

Baldersnas Estate Dalsland, SwedenRomancing at Baldersnäs Estate

Biking, canoeing, and camping might not be the most romantic of activities, but after all that outdoorsy togetherness head to the Baldersnäs Estate. It’s a turn of the century Swedish mansion romantically set on the sparkling shores of Lake Laxsjön. You can stay either in the main house or in two new hotel wings on the tree-lined avenue leading down toward the lake.

The estate’s English Park was Sweden’s largest in its heyday and though not all of it exists anymore, it’s still a lovely place to stroll amongst the fragrant blooms and exotic species of trees. Or talk a walk hand-in-hand along the lake, gazing out at the man-made islands.

Baldersnäs also has a spa where you can relax in the saunas and ease any aches from the plethora of outdoor activities and camping.

Baldersnas Estate Dalsland, Sweden

Strolling around the Baldersnas Estate

The restaurant prides itself of serving organic produce from the estate, locally sourced fish and game meats, and fruits and berries from the forest. The menu changes daily and is based upon what is in season and freshly available. We enjoyed wine pairings and a 5-course gourmet meal including lake salmon, mushrooms from the forest, and deer filet. Weather permitting you can dine outside on the terrace or in the charming dining room.

Double rooms in the Baldersnäs main house are 1390kr ($200 USD) per night and include breakfast. Double rooms in the annex are 795kr ($115 USD) per night and include breakfast. 

Disclosure: Our trip was provided by Visit Sweden and Volvo as part of the #WestSweden and #inaVolvo campaign. As always, all opinions about the experiences, restaurants, and accommodations are entirely our own.

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La Partita a Scacchi: Marostica’s Human Chess Game http://jdombstravels.com/la-partita-a-scacchi-human-chess-game/ http://jdombstravels.com/la-partita-a-scacchi-human-chess-game/#comments Sat, 23 Aug 2014 13:01:00 +0000 http://jdombstravels.com/la-partita-a-scacchi-human-chess-game/ Jdomb's Travels

The hilltop town of Marostica in the Veneto Plains is famous for two things: its special heart shaped variety of cherries that is the only Italian variety of cherry to earn P.G.I (protected geographic indication) and the Marostica Human Chess Game played on the inlaid marble chess board dominating the square. Related: Hiking to Marostica’s …

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Marostica

The hilltop town of Marostica in the Veneto Plains is famous for two things: its special heart shaped variety of cherries that is the only Italian variety of cherry to earn P.G.I (protected geographic indication) and the Marostica Human Chess Game played on the inlaid marble chess board dominating the square.

Related: Hiking to Marostica’s Hilltop Castle

It was 1454 in the small town of Marostica, which then still belonged to the Venetian Republic. Two noble knights, Rinaldo D’Angarano and Vieri da Vallonara, challenged each other to a duel to win the hand of the beautiful Lionora. Taddeo Parisio, father of Lionora and Lord of the Marostica castle did not want to make an enemy of either suitor or loose them in a duel, so he forbade them to duel in under the Cangrande della Scala’s Edict. He instead declared that the two rivals would play a chess game: the winner would wed Lionora and the loser would join the Lord’s family as the husband of Lionora’s younger sister Oldrada. The Lord also decided the challenge should be honored by an performance of armed men, fool-soldiers and knights, with fireworks and dances and music.

It may no longer be the 1400’s, but the competitors are still dueling it out in a battle of their wits on Marostica’s giant marble chessboard. Every even numbered year in September revelers from all around Italy come to Marostica to cheer on either the black or the white knight as each knight calls out their move and the costumed players move according to the instructions of each knight.

Marostica's Human Chess Game

The game begins with archers shooting flaming arrows to illuminate the board in a burst of flames

Marostica Human Chess Game

The dueling knights call out commands to the players in the Venetian dialect

The re-enactment of the Marostica Human Chess Game involves over 550 characters and last around two hours. Once the sun sets, the event begins with archers high on the towers of the Lower Castle shooting flaming arrows to the outskirts of the chess board. In a burst of flames, the chess board comes to life. The orders are still given to the characters and cast today in the “Serenissima Republic of Venezia” dialect.

Marostica Human Chess Game

The game ends in celebration and fireworks

To complicate things further, Lady Lionora was secretly in love with one of the two knights. She secretly informed the population that if the winner were her beloved, the Lower Castle would be illuminated by white light so that all the town’s people could share in their joy. Just as Lionora was united with her true love when he won both the Marostica Human Chess Game and her heart, the game ends in a celebration of music, dance, and fireworks. The lower castle, just as you would expect all good fairy tales to end, blazes a white so bright that in that moment, it can no doubt be seen all the way from the sea.

Know Before You Go

  • The Marostica Human Chess Game takes places in 2014 on Friday, September 12 and Saturday, September 13 at 9pm and Sunday, September 14 at 5pm and 9pm. Tickets can be purchased in advance online.
  • The nearest train station to Marostica is in Bassano del Grappa and then buses connect the two towns. Or it can be reached by car from the A4 highway from Venice or Milan.

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Hiking the Belluno Dolomites http://jdombstravels.com/hiking-belluno/ http://jdombstravels.com/hiking-belluno/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 13:50:50 +0000 http://jdombstravels.com/?p=57389 Jdomb's Travels

The Parco Nazionale delle Dolomiti Bellunesi (The National Park of the Belluno Dolomites) has numerous hiking trails crisscrossing the two 2000 meter high mountains that rise up between Belluno and Feltre. Hiking Belluno offers nature lovers beautiful panoramas, particularly on the stretch of the Dolomites Alta Via 13 marked as trail 13 between Rifguio La …

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The Parco Nazionale delle Dolomiti Bellunesi (The National Park of the Belluno Dolomites) has numerous hiking trails crisscrossing the two 2000 meter high mountains that rise up between Belluno and Feltre. Hiking Belluno offers nature lovers beautiful panoramas, particularly on the stretch of the Dolomites Alta Via 13 marked as trail 13 between Rifguio La Casera and Rifugio Col Visentin, the highest point in this stretch of the mountains.

View over Lake Santa CroceThe trail is great for hikers of any level. It starts as a rocky semi-paved forest road from the parking lot of the Rifugio La Casera at 1400 meters on Alpe del Nevegal. The trail has an immediate 8% gradient, but within minutes we were rewarded with beautiful views of the turquoise and emerald waters of Lake Santa Croce.

The well marked trail quickly makes its way through the forest and continues up a grassy ridge with views of the lake, the Piave River, and the Alps to the right. To the left, the houses of Belluno dot the valley and the Dolomiti Bellunesi rising up behind. There are plenty of grassy plains spotted with colorful mountain wildflowers perfect for a picnic and we saw plenty of families doing just that.

Rifugio Bristot

Rifugio Bristot

If you don’t want to pack a lunch up, you could easily hike up to Rifugio Bristot. It was opened in 1950 and got its name from Lieutenant Angelo degli Alpini Bristot. The rifugio serves pasta and local dishes and the picnic tables outside have a stellar view over Valbelluna, the Cadore and some of the most beautiful peaks of the Dolomites. Since the rifugio is served by the ski lifts, it is open and accessible all year round.

Hiking BellunoWe continued on the trail toward Rifugio Visentin 100 meters higher at 1765 meters. There are two ways up: you can take a dirt forest service road or you can hike the mostly grassy ridge up. We took the ridge, which though steeper is a more direct route and much easier under the feet than a rocky road. We were again afforded beautiful views, even with hiking through some of the clouds that were beginning to roll in.

Hiking BellunoIf hiking this trail in August, you might even want to bring a container. The trail is covered with ground blueberry bushes and we were more than happy to join in with hikers collecting up blueberries. We didn’t have a container since we weren’t expecting this wonderful treat, but we picked handful and ate them right then and there. My hands are still stained purple, but those were some delicious blueberries!

The trail descends down off the ridge and meets up with the forest road. You again have a choice of climbing the rest of the way to Rifugio Visentin on the road or on a steep climb up a rocky hill. Tim never wants to take the easy way and I dragged myself up what I swear was the full 100 meters of elevation gain in just 50 meters of trail. But with the rifugio in sight and the promise of a hot meal and wine, I never hiked so quickly.

Rifugio Visentin

Rifugio Visentin

 

Rifugio Visentin

Tagliatelle with mushrooms and mountain herbs and apple strudel

Refugio Vistentin is at 1765 meters and is positioned at the end of the Dolomites Alta Via 1, a long distance hike through the mountains for 90 some miles that Tim did last summer, and as part of the Alta Via 3. It’s also part of the famous Munich to Venice long distance hike and memorabilia decorate the walls. The rifugio is at the highest point in this stretch of the mountains, hence the radio and cellular towers that also top the hill. But pay no matter to the towers because the panoramas are breathtaking. You can see all the way to the sea, the Venice lagoon, and the Dolomites on a clear day from up top. The rifugio is only open May through September and is known for its simple dishes like homemade pasta noodles with fresh mushrooms and mountains herbs. You can also sleep here on request in one of the two dorms (they have 12 beds each with two bathrooms).

Hiking BellunoWe did take the forest service road back down, which creates a loop back to Rifugio Bristot. Even on the road, the views are stunning. The hike from Rifugio La Casera to Rifugio Visentin round trip is 7 miles with 350 meters elevation gain and is suitable for all levels of hikers.

Know Before You Go

  • The trail head at Rifugio La Casera can be reached from Belluno by car or by bus.

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Win 2 Tickets to Colombia from LAN Airlines http://jdombstravels.com/win-2-tickets-colombia-lan-airlines/ http://jdombstravels.com/win-2-tickets-colombia-lan-airlines/#comments Fri, 15 Aug 2014 21:28:26 +0000 http://jdombstravels.com/?p=57276 Jdomb's Travels

We used to visit the Caribbean every year before we moved to Europe. It’s been five years since our last visit and we’re itching to get back to that side of the world. Cartagena, Colombia’s cool Caribbean sea breezes, fancy fusion restaurants, and South American charm sound like a perfect getaway to us. So, when …

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We used to visit the Caribbean every year before we moved to Europe. It’s been five years since our last visit and we’re itching to get back to that side of the world. Cartagena, Colombia’s cool Caribbean sea breezes, fancy fusion restaurants, and South American charm sound like a perfect getaway to us.

So, when LAN Airlines reached out to us about their “Countdown to South America” giveaway with 2 tickets to Cartagena, Colombia and 3 nights accommodations in the seaside city, we knew we had to share it with you.

LAN AirlinesHow To Enter

We sadly won’t be jetting off to Colombia anytime soon, but you could be on your way! It’s really easy to enter and just takes two minutes of your time. Head over to Countdown to Cartagena and enter your name, email address, zip code, and departure city. You do need to agree to the terms and conditions, plus agree to receive communications from the airline. Answer a few quick questions about South America and your entry just might be the winner.

Not to worry though, you can always unsubscribe from the communications. But as we recommend in our Essential Guide to Europe’s Budget Airlines, you find out about the best deals (really, steals) in airline newsletters. So getting those in your inbox isn’t such a bad thing.

BONUS ENTRY: You can also share with your friends on Facebook or retweet that you’ve entered the competition for an extra entry with a click of a button.

And you didn’t hear it from me, but when you enter you also get a 15% discount off any LAN Airlines flight to anywhere where they fly in Colombia. So if you’re planning on making like the birds and heading south for the winter, an entry will save you some cash on your flights.

What You Win

You not only get two round trip tickets with LAN Airlines, but you’ll also be staying at the luxe Casa San Agustin right inside Cartagena’s city walls for 4 days/3 nights with breakfast included. It was recently restored and voted as one of the top hotels in Colombia and by Conde Nast Traveler as one of the best new hotels in the world. With just 24 guest rooms and 6 suites and the Caribbean nearby, this hotel sounds romantic and right up our alley.

The Countdown to Cartagena Sweepstakes ends at 11:59 p.m. (EST) on September 4, 2014, and is only open to U.S. Residents.

Cartagena, ColombiaWhat are you waiting for? Hop to it and enter to win this fabulous getaway with the Countdown to Cartagena sweepstakes!

Disclosure: We were compensated to share this competition from LAN Airlines with you; however, it is a destination we ourselves would like to visit and feel the competition is worth sharing. Good luck!

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Barcelona or Madrid? The Food Tour Showdown! http://jdombstravels.com/madrid-food-tour-devour-barcelona-food-tours/ http://jdombstravels.com/madrid-food-tour-devour-barcelona-food-tours/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 15:09:09 +0000 http://jdombstravels.com/?p=57113 Jdomb's Travels

Whether it’s a football battle between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, or a political one over the Catalan independence movement, it’s no secret that Barcelona and Madrid enjoy more than their fair share of rivalry! When I started giving food tours in Madrid with Madrid Food Tour in 2012, I remember defending all my city had to offer, …

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Jdomb's Travels

Whether it’s a football battle between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, or a political one over the Catalan independence movement, it’s no secret that Barcelona and Madrid enjoy more than their fair share of rivalry! When I started giving food tours in Madrid with Madrid Food Tour in 2012, I remember defending all my city had to offer, convinced it was some of the best cuisine in Spain.

MadridThen I lived in Barcelona. 

Fast forward two years and I’m scouring the streets of Barcelona’s Gracia neighborhood, planning our very first Barcelona food tour with the new branch of our company, Devour Barcelona Food Tours. And I found myself falling head over heels…

Sagrada FamiliaPeople ask me which city I prefer all the time. But after living in both I have to say it’s a draw. Sure, Barcelona has the beach, but Madrid has an old world charm that’s hard to beat. Madrid has the acclaimed Prado museum, and Barcelona has Gaudí… the battle continues. For me it’s like saying do you prefer cocktails or wine– it all depends on the occasion!

As far as food goes, both cities are incredible, offering some of the best traditional bars alongside the most exciting fine dining in Europe. I won’t play favorites– but maybe you will.

Here is a glimpse of some of the tastes on our Barcelona food tours, versus some of the bites on our Madrid food tours. You be the judge and let me know which you’d prefer in the comments!

Tasting Barcelona with Devour Barcelona Food Tours

Embotits/Embutidos

Catalan cured meatsCured Catalan sausages are the gateway to my heart, and I especially love the mini fuets they sell at nearly every supermarket. We feature these on our tours as a way to sample the Catalan way of eating little by little “pica-pica” style.

Botifarra/Butifarra

butifarraSpeaking of sausage, the fresh stuff is amazing as well! We take you to a small family run eatery to try their famous butifarra sausage sandwich, topped with homemade (in a mortar and pestle!) alioli.

Cava

cava tasting Cava is an acclaimed sparkling wine, made in the same style as champagne. It can’t be called champagne because of protected origin laws, which at first was a disadvantage, but in recent years is actually a chance to create an excellent (and different) Catalan identity for these special wines. It wouldn’t be a Barcelona food tour without a glass of the sparkly stuff!

Cremats

cremant Catalan dessertThe cremat is a special dessert found only in one tiny Barcelona bakery. Invented by the current owners’ great grandfather, it is a play of the famous crema catalana (which some argue was the predecessor to creme brûlée). The difference is, the creamy custard is surrounded by a spongy layer of cake. It is to die for!

Tasting Madrid with Madrid Food Tour

Tortilla de Patatas

Carlos tortilla tortilla cerverizThere is nothing more Spanish than a tortilla de patatas (a gooey potato omelet), and there are some pretty delicious ones to be found in the Spanish capital. We introduce you to Carlos, one of the city’s greatest tortilla makers, and he’ll tell you the secret to getting yours just right.

Pincho de Aceitunas

Madrid Food TourOlives are found in many different regions of Spain, but the Madrileños take their obsession to a new level with some of the most delightful olive skewers you can imagine. From ham and cheese to roasted red pepper and anchovy, most of the local markets will offer at least a few varieties at their olive booths.

Cocido Madrileño

Madrid Food TourOne of Madrid’s signature dishes is the hearty and delicious Cocido Madrileño (Madrid style stew). Garbanzo beans, stewed cabbage, and a variety of meats all come together to make a magical winter meal, sure to warm you up on even the coldest day in Madrid!

Churros y Porras

churrosAnd you can’t leave Madrid without trying churros (or their cousin, porras) at least once! Whether you prefer them plain, sprinkled with sugar, or with a rich cup of Spanish chocolate, there is no way not to fall in love with these delicious fritters.

What do you think? Will you be joining us in Madrid or Barcelona? 

Exclusive deal: When you book a Madrid Food Tour or a Devour Barcelona food tour through Jdomb’s Travel Deals  you receive 10% off with the promo code LUXEADVENTURE10!

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Hiking Italy’s Strada delle 52 Gallerie http://jdombstravels.com/strada-delle-52-gallerie/ http://jdombstravels.com/strada-delle-52-gallerie/#comments Mon, 11 Aug 2014 14:52:15 +0000 http://jdombstravels.com/?p=56974 Jdomb's Travels

My headlamp shines into the darkness ahead, barely illuminating the rocks as the tunnel twists upward like a spiral staircase cut into a mountain. Tim and I are in a tunnel on Italy’s Mount Pasubio that was built during World War I. In fact, this is just one of 52 tunnels that were built by …

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Strada delle 52 Gallerie trail head

The Strada delle 52 Gallerie trail head

My headlamp shines into the darkness ahead, barely illuminating the rocks as the tunnel twists upward like a spiral staircase cut into a mountain. Tim and I are in a tunnel on Italy’s Mount Pasubio that was built during World War I. In fact, this is just one of 52 tunnels that were built by by the Italian Army on the southern slope of the mountain as a military mule road in order to provide cover from enemy fire. Nowadays it’s a popular hiking route called the Strada delle 52 Gallerie.

The 6,555 meter long road was considered an military engineering marvel and was constructed in just 10 months from March to November 1917 under the guidance of Lieutenant Joseph Zappa. During WWI it was strategically important because it allowed the transportation of supplies and communication away from the Austro-Hungarian artillery fire.

Strada delle 52 Gallerie tunnel 1

Entrance to Tunnel 1

As we trudge up the snaking road (if you can really call it a road), I can’t imagine soldiers leading mules carrying supplies up this, yet alone the miners of the 5th Regiment Engineers surveying and constructing the Strada delle 52 Galleries during one of the harshest winters of the century. The trail immediately heads uphill from the trail head and alternates between dirt track covered in scree and the tunnels dug into the rock.

This is no tourist stroll up the mountain as the trail steeply gains elevation immediately with an average 12% grade and some places reaching a gradient up to 22%. But there are plenty of rocks to sit on and rest, have an energy boosting snack, and take in the views. About 2.5 kilometers of the 6.5 kilometer (just over 4 miles) trail is tunnels, each individually numbered and named and ranging from the shortest at 10 meters long to the longest, number 19, at 318 meters long. The tunnels are at least 2 meters (6 feet) wide and all are at least as tall to accommodate a mule, so they are relatively comfortable to walk through unless you have severe claustrophobia. I only had to hunch slightly in a few to avoid knocking the sunglasses off the top of my head.

Strada delle 52 Gallerie

Can you spot Tim and Emma?

Strada delle 52 Gallerie

The trail alternates between a dirt track and tunnels dug out of the mountain

Strada delle 52 Gallerie

Don’t forget a headlamp so you can see inside the tunnels

Tunnel 20 is the tunnel that twists around itself upward for 86 meters of which you are distinctly aware you are spiraling upward in the dark. Tunnel 27 is 98 meters of literally the best “air conditioning” we’ve felt in Italy. Just barely beyond the halfway point of the hike, I was totally ready to set up camp in that tunnel. If I’d had one of those foldable camping chairs, I might still be there holing up until the sweltering heat leaves Italy in September.

Strada delle 52 Gallerie Strada delle 52 GallerieThe end of Tunnel 47 is the highest point of the trail at 2000 meters (6,562 feet) and then descends again to 1928 meters. After the tunnels end, there might even be some patches of snow left from winter. Since I couldn’t hang out all day in the magically cool Tunnel 27, I did the next best thing to cool off. I laid right down in the only patch of snow left on the mountain. Hell, I was already soaked from sweating my butt off all the way up that mountain. Emma took one look at me lying there and rolled around. Tim even put down the camera long enough to cool down on the snow too.

Strada delle 52 Gallerie

On top of the world…or the Strada delle 52 Gallerie anyway

Strada delle 52 Gallerie

Watch out for beer stealing mules at the rifugio

The trail finally comes to an end at Rifugio Achille Papa with breathtaking views over the entire area. Just pack a few snacks to keep up your energy on the hike; once at the end of the trail you can grab a beer or a glass of wine and relax. The rifugio also serves everything from sandwiches to pasta and soups. Soup? After I’d just rolled on snow to cool off? Well, at that height with the clouds rolling in it can get surprisingly chilly.

There are two ways back to the car park: you can either turn around and head right back down on the Strada delle 52 Gallerie or you can take the gently winding road. We opted for the dirt road, which is used to transport supplies up to the rifugio and in case of emergencies, plus a few footpath short cuts between the hairpin turns of the road. Doing the full loop is 17.5 kilometers (10.8 miles) total or up and back on the Strada delle 52 Gallerie is 13 kilometers (8.1 miles) total.

Know Before You Go

  • Strada delle 52 Gallerie is open for hiking in the summer. It shouldn’t be attempted in the winter because of dangerous conditions and the possibility of snow blocking the tunnels.
  • Parking and entrance are free. Dogs are allowed.
  • A headlamp or a flashlight is a necessity.
  • The trail head is located at Bocchetta Campiglia and can be reached by car with the GPS coordinates 45.7790° N, 11.2280° E

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Radon Treatments at the Gastein Healing Caves http://jdombstravels.com/gastein-healing-caves/ http://jdombstravels.com/gastein-healing-caves/#comments Sat, 02 Aug 2014 13:03:47 +0000 http://jdombstravels.com/?p=56721 Jdomb's Travels

Tim and I are sitting in big fluffy robes on a tiny train that is whisking us over two kilometers in to a cave in Austria. No, we’re not using the robes to keep warm before a walking tour like in Slovenia’s Postojna Caves. We’re trying out a radical treatment (at least us Americans would …

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Tim and I are sitting in big fluffy robes on a tiny train that is whisking us over two kilometers in to a cave in Austria. No, we’re not using the robes to keep warm before a walking tour like in Slovenia’s Postojna Caves. We’re trying out a radical treatment (at least us Americans would say so) in the Gastein Healing Caves.

The Austrians and Germans, on the other hand, swear by the miraculous healing powers of the naturally occurring low-level radon gas in Radhausberg Mountain. It’s even a treatment covered by their health insurance. Europeans have spent up to two weeks treating their ailments like inflammation, pain, skin conditions like psoriasis, and a long list of other medical conditions in the healing caves.

Like us, you might be wondering how on earth the Austrians and Germans discovered the health benefits of radon gas. As we meet with one of the doctors before our treatment, he tells us the tale. In the height of the Gastein Gold Rush in the 1700s, it was said that Gastein supplied more than 10% of the world’s gold. Naturally, greedy German soldiers in World War II thought there might be some gold left for their taking and ordered miners in to the caves. They didn’t find any gold, but they reported being able to breathe much better after spending time in the caves.

Some 75,000 people (mostly from Austria, Germany and Central Europe) flock to the Gastein Healing Caves every year and claim that a week to two weeks of treatments offer them sustained pain relief for up to a full year. Supposedly the radon gas combined with high humidity levels due to the temperature help stimulate the body’s natural powers of self-healing by absorbing the gas through your skin and lungs.

Though American doctors would no doubt raise an eyebrow and warn that high levels of radon gas can be toxic, I was willing to try it out. Tim and I were in a car accident in April and I’ve been dealing with a neck injury causing me pain since. After all, the doctors explained that the amount of radon gas absorbed over the course of a two week treatment is equivalent to getting an x-ray.

Gastein Healing Caves

Photo courtesy of Gasteinertal Tourismus GmbH

The Visit

We arrived to the Gastein Healing Caves clinic and aside from a mining cart out front, it looks like any medical facility. We check in and are sent to fill out some paperwork with our medical history. We watch a short video in English that details every aspect of the process from the examination with the doctor to how to use the train or alert the doctor in the caves.

As we’re only at the caves to try them out for this story, we meet with the doctor together. He checks our blood pressure and heart rate, then explains and answers our questions about the caves. There are five galleries in the caves of varying temperatures and humidity up to 41.5°C (106.7°F) and 100% humidity.

All patients start out in Station I, which is the very last stop on the train, and has a temperature of 37°C (98.6°F) and 75% humidity. Most patients will stay in this station or Station IA, though some treatment progresses patients up through the various stations increasing in temperature and humidity. I for one am glad we are only going to Station I; I can usually only stand about 10 minutes tops in a sauna and I’d be spending 60 minutes in the healing cave nearly a mile inside a mountain.

After our examination, we head to the couples changing cabin we are assigned and put on our swimsuits, our spa robes, and flip flops. We have a pin to each pin our cabin key to our robes and we hydrate with water and juice at the spa cafe while waiting for the train.

As we board the train, we’re given a sheet to drape over the bed and lay on once you reach the caves. The train takes about 20 minutes and stops at all of the stations before Station 1, where we’re getting off. As we ride the train we’re already beginning to sweat. Once we arrive at our station and most of the train piles out, we head to separate men and women’s caves, each with 40 beds.

Some of the women in my cave completely strip while others lounge in their swim suits. Tim tells me after that it was the same in the men’s cave. I put down my sheet and make a pillow of my “sweat towel”. Silence is encouraged in the caves and it is quiet aside from the patter of feet as the attending doctor patrols the cave and the occasional snore. I’m fully relaxed, comfortable, and sound asleep probably in minutes.

An hour passes in no time and the doctor is waking us all to prepare for the train to take us all out. Tim and I easily meet back up and ride in the same car together back out. It makes one stop, called the Spa Robe Station, where you dry off and put your robe back on before returning to the clinic.

Back at the clinic, there are showers to freshen up and if you’ve been schedule for physiotherapy, this is where the treatment rooms are.

Grand Park Hotel Bad Hofgastein

Grand Park Hotel and Spa

The Grand Park Hotel Bad Hofgastein

The Grand Park Hotel in Bad Hofgastein offers a Healing Cave Program that includes 7 nights in a double room with half board and all treatments. We did a mini version of this and stayed two nights with half board and our treatment.

The five-star hotel is simply fabulous. The rooms are incredibly spacious and we had a balcony with beautiful mountain views to enjoy. The huge bathroom had a separate shower and jacuzzi bath. It’s also pet friendly and welcomed Emma with a cute doggy area set up in our room for her.

Half board includes an ample breakfast buffet, healthy snacks in bar in the afternoon, and a 5-course dinner. The cuisine is delicious, yet healthy in keeping with the theme of a health spa holiday. The menu changes and you have a couple of choices for entree. We enjoyed a corn chowder soup, a dumpling with sweetbreads, roast suckling pig, an a cake with homemade ice cream and fresh berries, and the salad bar on our visit. With an Austrian wine from The Grand Park Hotel’s extensive cellar.

There is also an on-site spa, indoor thermal pool, and a variety of daily activities offered by the hotel. We had the opportunity for a cheese making demonstration and tasting, guided hikes, and yoga on our visit. A daily program is delivered with all the next day’s offerings, including the spa specials for the day.

What To Do Nearby

The alpine setting offers 220 kilometers of pistes for skiers in the winter. It’s a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts in summer with hiking and biking trails, an 18-hole golf course, horseback riding, paragliding and more. There are castles nearby to visit and Salzburg is just an hour away.

Stubnerkogel suspension bridge

In the clouds

Stubnerkogel

Though we didn’t have the best weather on our visit, a little bit of rain and mist won’t stop the most hardy of hikers. An easy hike suitable for any weather is to take the Stubnerkogel lift up to the top station. Here you can get some great views from the swaying 140 meter long suspension bridge. Though it just crosses from one rocky outcrop back to the station, it does break two world records: it is the first hanging bridge at 2300 meters and it can be walked across all year long in rain, snow, and preferably sunshine.

Hike back down to the valley in about 4 hours time on the trail winding down through meadows, wildflowers, and forest. In good weather, you can also hike down from the mountain station to the natural Bockartsee Lakes.

Klammstein Castle

Klammstein Castle

Klammstein Castle

Klammstein Castle stands guard at the entrance to the Gastein Valley, where it once served to protect the people of the valley from intruders. It’s a small castle, though there is a restaurant and bar that serves lunch. The interior of the castle can only be visiting on a guided tour.

Bad Hofgastein

Bad Hofgastein is a typical Austrian village full of charming little shops and cafes. With so much to do for outdoor lovers and the museums and culture of Salzburg practically on your doorstep, it can be easy to forget to wander the village you’re staying in. At the very least, wander in to one of the little cafes for a slice of Austrian strudel.

Hohenwerfen CastleBurg Hohenwerfen

Burg Hohenwerfen is a small fortress about 51 kilometers from Bad Gastein and has a weaponry museum. In summer, there is also a falconry show where the trainers will teach you a bit about birds of prey and demonstrate their impressive wing spans and hunting skills as they soar over Salzburgerland.

Salzburg

Salzburg is just an hour away and Sound of Music fans will want to visit sights from the movie on the Original Sound of Music Tour. Or take in breathtaking views over Salzburg from the city’s iconic Hohensalzburg Fortress while sipping on a glass of Austrian wine from the tavern. You can even take in a variety of concerts from classical to jazz all year round.

How To Get There

It’s easy to arrive in Bad Gastein, Bad Hofgastein or Dorfgastein by car or train. There are always taxi and bus connections available to the individual villages.

  • Note that there is a car train when arriving from southern Austria via Villach, Möllbrücke and Obervellach to Mallnitz. Be sure to check the Tauern Motorail schedule.
  • By car, Bad Gastein is approximately 1 hour from Salzburg and 2 hours from Innsbruck or Munich.

Trains stop at the stations in Bad Hofgastein, Dorfgastein and Bad Gastein. Find tickets here.

Disclosure: Our stay at The Grand Park Hotel and visit to the Gastein Healing Caves were hosted by The Grand Park Hotel in order to bring you this story. As always, all opinions are entirely our own.

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A Week In the Life of a Travel Blogger http://jdombstravels.com/life-of-a-travel-blogger/ http://jdombstravels.com/life-of-a-travel-blogger/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 14:13:12 +0000 http://jdombstravels.com/?p=56586 Jdomb's Travels

Tim and I were just at dinner the other night with a group of his friends from work. I’d never met any of them before because my life as a full-time travel blogger keeps me on the go. A lot. After a few jokes that I actually do exist, the group was enthralled with what …

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Jdomb's Travels

Tim and I were just at dinner the other night with a group of his friends from work. I’d never met any of them before because my life as a full-time travel blogger keeps me on the go. A lot. After a few jokes that I actually do exist, the group was enthralled with what I do an how I get to do the seemingly endless list of cool things I’m always off doing.

This isn’t uncommon. The questions are ones a lot of people are interested in and I really don’t mind answering them. The truth is that travel blogging is still such a new profession that there is no clear cut answer on how to become a professional travel blogger. And there definitely is not a clear cut answer on what I actually do day to day, because it can be vastly different from week to week.

There are professional travel bloggers of all kinds. Some are digital nomads and travel from place to place always working on the road. Others, like us, have a home base and come home from trips to unpack, catch up on work, and do perfectly normal things like grocery shop, clean house, and go out with friends. So what do I actually do? Since I’m sure my mom, dad, and inquiring minds would love to know, I decided to share what a week as a full-time travel blogger is like for me.

The Empire Hotel

Photo courtesy of The Empire Hotel

Monday

It’s time to hit to the road for a busy multi-city trip through the US. After a delayed flight, I only got home last night at 9pm from a full week traveling around Gothenburg and West Sweden for the #inaVolvo campaign that Tim and I were hired to promote. I spent the night doing laundry, re-packing and I caught a two hour nap before I had to wake up and be on the train at 7am.

I’m flying out of Milan on one of Emirates new non-stop flights to JFK in New York City, so I’ve got to hop on the train to Milan. I use my three hour train journey to get work done for the university I also work for. I can get online anywhere there is 3G with my personal Huawei E5331 21Mbps Mobile WiFi Hotspot and I use the time to finish up my monthly social media sentiment summary and catch up on email from the last week.

By the time I board my Emirates flight, I collapse into my seat. Eight hours later I arrive at JFK, make my way through customs (but not without being pulled for questioning about my big fat passport that has had three extra sets of pages added to it and my travel history for the last few months), and finally fall in to a taxi.

I’m exhausted from being awake for nearly 24 hours now but before I can crawl in to bed at my hotel, I need to snap some photos because I’m reviewing my stay at The Empire Hotel (you can read my review here).

Flying trapeze school

Legs up at the Trapeze School of New York

Tuesday

It’s a good thing I’m super jet lagged and awake by 3am. I make a few updates to my presentation for UBTech and practice my presentation in front of the mirror. I’m speaking at the top technology in higher education conference on social media strategy later in the week.

I take a break and head downtown to Pier 40. I’m taking an early morning flying trapeze class with the Trapeze School of New York. I’m the only new flyer and I intimidate myself by watching the other flyers and convincing myself I’ll look like an idiot to the rest of the class. With some excellent and personalized instruction, the coaches have me swinging and hanging by my knees in no time.

With scraped up knees and elbows, I head back to The Empire Hotel. I grab a sandwich and latte from Starbucks and settle in to work the rest of the day. I write a couple blog posts, have some meetings, and wade through an endless flow of incoming emails.

I was invited to see Disney’s new Broadway show, Aladdin, so in the evening I head to the New Amsterdam Theater. There are VIP tickets, an autographed photo, an Aladdin pin and drink vouchers waiting for me at will call. My mom was supposed to meet me in New York for my quick trip, but she broke her wrist and couldn’t make the trip. I give the two little girls to my right my autographed photos and Aladdin pins. They are thrilled and the show is excellent.

Back at my hotel, I fall in to bed exhausted.

Mandarin Oriental New York Lobby Lounge

There’s not a bad table in the Mandarin Oriental New York Lobby Lounge

Wednesday

Not exhausted enough apparently, because once again I’m awake by 3am. After an hour of staring at the ceiling, I get up to work. I go over my presentation again a few more times.

I work for six hours before I get dressed for the day and meet with The Empire Hotel’s public relations representative and marketing manager. We tour the hotel and then I pop out to Starbucks for a latte. The maid has come to clean my room in the hour I’ve been gone, so I can settle back in to get more work done.

And I keep on working for another three hours. I get a much needed break away from the computer and stroll down a few blocks to the Mandarin Oriental New York. I’ve been invited to have afternoon tea in their Lobby Lounge on the 35th floor.

I’ve got to head straight back to my hotel after tea because I need a quiet space to Skype. I’m also a travel correspondent on the satellite radio show On Travel, which is broadcast on the American Forces Radio Network. It’s a 25 minute show and though not scripted, I always make some notes so I don’t miss mentioning anything important. Even though I’ve been doing the show for two years now, I still get nervous! (Check out a podcast of the show here.)

I’m invited to dinner at Ed’s Chowder House right at The Empire Hotel. I’m glad dinner is at the hotel, because I’ve got to be up at 2:30am for a very early flight.

Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas pool

I’d rather be lounging poolside, but I’m working (Photo courtesy of Mandarin Oriental)

Thursday

I’ve flown across the country and checked in to the Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas before most people in the US are even awake. I also wrote and scheduled a blog post on the flight using GoGo Inflight Internet from 35,000 feet. As much as I’d like to do nothing more than lounge around the MO Las Vegas’ fabulous pool getting a tan, but I’m primarily in Las Vegas to speak at the UBTech conference.

I get registered and pick up my speaker’s badge for the conference. I check out the room that I’m speaking in and then head to the speaker’s lounge to test out my presentation on the projector. I spend the afternoon and evening at the conference networking events. Only one glass of wine for me and I’m in bed by 10pm.

Friday

Though I plan to have some fun while I’m in Las Vegas, the primary reason I’m here is to speak about social media strategy. My talk follows the keynote and I sit fidgeting through it because I am nervous.

I arrive to my room and get set up to speak. Just two others sat in the room looking back at me for what felt like forever. And then the room started to fill up. Slowly at first, and then it was standing room only. The next 40 minutes flew by and even though my talk ended at the lunch break, I had a line of colleagues waiting to get my business card and chat for a few minutes. When I finally head to lunch myself, I let out a huge sigh of relief.

Friday night in Las Vegas I can finally relax and just enjoy the weekend. I have just one blog post to write over the weekend, I am off for the weekend from the university, and a couple of my friends have flown in from Phoenix to hang out with me.

We’ve all been invited to Sugar Factory for the famous liquid nitrogen drinks. As smoke from the bowls and goblets of liquid nitrogen poured over our table, we felt like rock stars. It may have had something to do with everyone staring at us… And I’m fairly certain we sampled the entire specialty drink menu. Even though I was still technically working, it was an awesome way to end an insanely busy week.

Sky Combat Ace

Ready to go!

Saturday and Sunday

I’ll tell you all about Las Vegas soon. I packed a lot in to a short trip there, including my flight in an open cockpit bi-plane. I did barrel rolls and loops in it over Hoover Dam!

So You Want to Be a Travel Blogger?

This is what a typical week traveling as a full-time travel blogger is like for me. I post pictures of all the awesome things we’re doing, but there is a lot of work that has to happen on the trip too. We’re not just on an endless holiday as our Facebook and Instagram might lead you to believe.

You might be wondering exactly how I end up doing all these fabulous things like getting invited to Aladdin on Broadway or flying in a bi-pane and doing stunts. Well, we worked really hard for a long time for free and traveled on our own dime to more than 20 countries in order to build a website with content. That content started a small community of readers that kept coming back and subscribing to follow along.

Now we belong to several professional writer’s associations that help connect travel writers like ourselves with brands. I also make it easy for brands to get a full profile of our site statistics and demographics with various tools. If you’ve got a travel blog and are thinking of making it a profession, here are some resources I recommend to help you take things to the next level:

TBEXTBEX

TBEX, or The Travel Blog Exchange, is geared specifically for new media (blogs, video blogs, and online content creators). TBEX hosts two conferences annually, one each in North America and Europe, and is the place to learn, network, and connect with industry professionals. I’ve personally made excellent connections, met sponsors, and learned how to take our blog to the next level from a number of successful bloggers and marketers.

I’m also honored to have been asked to speak about social media strategy at TBEX Athens this October.

themidgamethemidgame

Brands naturally like to see a blogger’s site analytics and social influence when deciding to work with them on a campaign. They need feel confident that they are going to get a return on investment when taking a chance on working with a blogger for content creation. themidgame makes it easy for brands to see a full picture of both a blogger’s website traffic and social influencer profile.

It’s completely free for bloggers to sign up for a profile and you can even apply for sponsorships through themidgame’s network. We’ve already received several sponsorships through themidgame and the portal makes it really easy to negotiate the terms with in-dashboard messaging.

ifwtwa logoInternational Food Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA)

IFWTWA is a writer’s association that helps connect journalists with brands. Not only that, there are several recognitions for excellence in the industry, media trips, a number of member only discounts, and an annual conference. I particularly like the members-only newsletter because it packed with leads on brands looking for writers, upcoming press trips, and freelance opportunities both in print and online.

There is an annual membership fee and an application and verification process to go through to become a member. This is to ensure only professionals paid to write or produce content are accepted as members. If you review and meet the qualifications and decide to apply, feel free to list my name on your application. I get a one time $20 referral credit on my next annual dues.

Disclosure: We were compensated to write a review of themidgame; however, we were not required to write a positive review. As always, all opinions are entirely our own and we only recommend destinations, products, and services we ourselves use.

Jdomb's Travels

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